This out-of-nowhere Rays star is slaying the Yankees and becoming a folk hero
In the literary universe of baseball, the New York Yankees are the dragon, the death star and the boss all rolled into one. You're just supposed to win. Status quo: Yankees win. Actual recent history, in which they have neither won nor reached the World Series since 2009, is nowhere near as important as their ingrained place in culture. Even their lower sowing or second place does not end. Gerrit Cole, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton add to the mood of the Monstars.
When someone has them on the ropes in the playoffs, a hero is born. The 2020 version of this character may be especially prepared to remember his story.
Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena kills the Yankees on the pitch in the American League Division Series. With a 2-1 win for the Rays and the win on Thursday evening, the 25-year-old has played all three games so far. He beats .667 / .692 / 1.417 in the series with eight hits, five runs and only one strikeout. Teammate Tyler Glasnow, who searched for words to describe his brilliance, concluded that he must be "the best baseball player in the world right now".
That would be remarkable nonetheless, but Arozarena - which made a total of 99 record appearances in the majors' regular season - is coming this October, prepackaged for intrigue, a folk hero starter kit. Observe.
Interesting origin story? Check.
Originally from Cuba, the Arozarena signed with the Cardinals and made his debut at St. Louis in 2019 as a relatively unannounced replacement outfielder. He even made a couple of appearances during last year's postseason, which allowed him to show World Cardinals manager Mike Shildt that he's not for audience-consuming post-game speech after eliminating the Braves.
He was then sent to the Rays in the off-season when not even the centerpiece (or as we thought) of a deal that sent prominent pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore to St. Louis and seemingly DH-linked Jose Martinez to Tampa.
At that time, his outlook was bleak despite strong minor league numbers (Cha-ching, more points for folk heroes). Potential analysts best guesses about his future made him close to an average everyday corner outfielder. FanGraphs noted that it hit the ball exceptionally hard and often impressed the Scouts with both its speed and willingness to use it. "Arozarena once turned a routine popup into a triple because it sprinted out of the box at full speed while the infielders communicated incorrectly," reported Eric Longenhagen in the rating.
He wowed the rays in spring training before contracting COVID-19 and starting the shortened season late. He only played 23 games, but crushed seven homers in just 76 record appearances to secure a prominent spot in the Rays line-up ahead of the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Rays' Randy Arozarena reacts after crossing the plate after scoring during the first inning of game 2 of an American League Division baseball series against the New York Yankees on Tuesday, October 6, 2020 in San Diego Has beaten solo home run. (AP Photo / Gregory Bull)
Transformation time in the wild? Check.
OK, so Arozarena didn't emerge from the woods or was trained in fighting styles by Liam Neeson, but he has a story about turning it on that immediately became canon.
What was seen as a double force for a speed-conscious gamer has become an over-the-fence power upon arrival in 2020, and voila, one catchy reason has entered the public consciousness. Arozarena says he gained 15 pounds of muscle by eating chicken and rice and doing 300 push-ups daily during his COVID-19 quarantine penned in a Florida apartment.
The Arozarena Diet, the next big fitness fad.
Branded clothing? Check.
However, if it's not the spartan diet and exercise routine, it's the cowboy boots.
As MLB.com's Juan Toribio explains, Arozarena has a long tradition of taking off his teammates' boots and enjoying the seeming happiness that comes with them. He said the training dates back to 2017 and his time in the Mexican Winter League and admittedly the effect sounds similar.
"These are the boots that give me good luck and I've always hit a home run," Arozarena told MLB.com.
With the Rays he takes on the good Juju from Brent Honeywell's completely black boots, which he wore on the field before the start of the ALDS. Perhaps the Yankees were doomed from the start.
It is possible that at a particularly opportune time, Arozarena could justifiably blossom into a star. Or maybe he's having the hottest two weeks of his career right now. However, our brains are just that complicated. At the moment, he's beating the Yankees with chicken, rice, and push-ups, which means he wears the cape in the movie That Is Baseball along with some cowboy boots.
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