The Rays are 6-0 when Francisco Mejia hits a home run and 11-2 when he drives in a run.
Not bad for a backup catcher.
Mejia, though, as the above numbers suggest, is not simply somebody who gives fellow catcher Mike Zunino a breather. Rather, he is a valuable member of the team with the best record in the American League and who has repeatedly demonstrated a knack for hitting in the clutch, especially late in games and with runners on base.
Wednesday night in Philadelphia was the latest such example. With two men on and nobody out in the ninth inning of a 4-4 game, the 25-year-old Mejia blasted Zack Wheeler’s 0-2 delivery into the second level of Citizens Bank Park. The homer gave the Rays a 7-4 lead, which would be the final score.
“After that homer, we were talking about the big hits that he’s gotten,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash, following the game. “He’s got a knack for coming up with guys on base and getting that big hit.”
In his previous game, last Sunday against the visiting White Sox, the switch-hitter ripped a two-out bases-clearing double to right field in the sixth to break open a close game in what would ultimately be a 9-0 Tampa Bay victory. Mejia was down in the count 0-2 in that at-bat as well.
“The confidence and the opportunities this team gives me allows me to get up there and relax,” said Mejia, who was acquired from the Padres in the December deal that sent Blake Snell to San Diego.
Mejia’s last homer prior to Wednesday also turned the tide in his team’s favor. His two-out, two-run blast off Boston’s Nathan Eovaldi in the fourth inning of a July 31 game at Tropicana Field gave the Rays a 5-3 lead. They took a 6-5 lead into their half of the eighth when Mejia struck again in the form of a two-run single that provided some breathing room in a 9-5 win.
Mejia, who is hitting .267 at home and on the road with six homers and 31 RBIs in 202 at-bats, did a number against the Blue Jays during a four-game series in May.
The crack of his bat resonated throughout the neighborhood of Dunedin’s TD Ballpark when his two-out, 12th-inning grand slam lifted the Rays to a 9-7 series-opening win.
Three days later, and about 24 hours after homering off Hyun Jin Ryu to give the Rays a fifth-inning lead in an eventual win, Mejia came through yet again in extra innings. After taking over behind the plate for Zunino in the 10th, he stroked a two-run single in the 11th to give the Rays a 9-7 lead and ignite a seven-run uprising in a 14-8 victory and a series sweep.
That is the kind of clutch hitting Mejia, who sports a .771 OPS, has provided a team that has consistently received timely contributions up and down the lineup.
“If it’s not one person it’s the other,” said Mejia, who nine times this season has driven in at least two runs. “We have the confidence to help each other out and support each other. We have the confidence that somebody is always going to do something.”
Mejia and the Rays take that confidence to Baltimore where they open a three-game series Friday night.
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