ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It was less than 24 hours after his dramatic throw, one that preserved a memorable Tampa Bay Rays victory and caused a firestorm throughout the country. Outfielder Sam Fuld was standing near his locker Tuesday afternoon at Tropicana Field, following a long but satisfying road trip, his team in first place in the American League East because of his strong left arm and a little luck.
Over time, Fuld has earned the nickname “Super Sam” because of moments like these. On Monday night, with one out and the Rays clinging to a 2-1 lead at a charged Fenway Park, he caught a fly ball from Brandon Snyder in left field and fired a bullet toward home plate, doing a cartwheel in the process. The ball skipped into catcher Jose Molina’s glove before a tag was placed on the sliding Daniel Nava.
Nava was called out, though the debate only began there. Red Sox manager John Farrell was ejected arguing the call. Umpire Jerry Meals, whose view was blocked on the play, later admitted that Nava’s left leg slipped into home plate ahead of Molina’s pursuit.
On Tuesday afternoon, Fuld shrugged.
“It’s not the first time I’ve thrown a guy out,” he said. “It’s definitely one of the bigger throws I’ve made in my career. … I practice that. I take a lot of pride in not just making catches but in my ability to throw runners out.”
It is only July, but Fuld’s throw was a moment fit for October. As the weeks have passed, it has become more obvious that the Rays are built for the long haul. The reasons vary.
The starting pitching, sparked by David Price’s return from the disabled list, has become some of the most consistent in the majors. The defense, bolstered by strong additions like Yunel Escobar and James Loney, is sound on most occasions. The relief pitching, starring closer Fernando Rodney and setup man Joel Peralta, has recovered from previous spotty stretches.
Breaks seem to fall favorably when a team is on a roll, and to many in the Rays clubhouse, there was a touch of karma involved with Fuld’s throw. Tampa Bay was involved in a number of iffy calls early, most notably a game-ending strike against Ben Zobrist against the Texas Rangers in April that appeared low and outside.
In the season’s opening months, Tampa Bay found ways to lose in gut-wrenching fashion, some cuts deeper than others. This time, a borderline moment went the Rays’ way.
“It totally reminds me of earlier this season with the called third strike against Zo, when we were in Texas,” Fuld said. “We just had to swallow that pill and move on. If he calls him safe there (in Boston), it’s 2-2. The game’s not over. It’s still anybody’s game.”
Fuld’s play was not made by chance. At least once a week, he practices throws like the one Tuesday with infielder/outfielder Kelly Johnson and infielder/outfielder Sean Rodriguez. He knows the stage for such moments does not come often, but he wants to be prepared for when the opportunity presents itself.
As for Meals’ call, others within the Rays had the same reaction as Fuld: That is baseball, sometimes quirky, other times inexplicable. Molina said, simply, “That’s the game.” Manager Joe Maddon said he gained respect for Meals after the umpire admitted his error.
“How many times did that happen to us and we just had to turn the page and keep going?” Molina said. “It is Boston and everybody is making it a bigger deal. Just stop the crying. Just stop crying. Just keep going and play the game.”
Of course, there are plenty more games left to be played this season. Fuld’s throw and Meals’ call contributed to a Twitter spat between the two teams (the Red Sox’s jab went below the attendance belt), refreshed debate about replay’s value and offered another reminder that baseball is a game of ebb and flow, each moment contributing to a larger whole.
A guarantee: The American League East race will include more tension, more memories, with each passing week.
Before settling in to prepare for another step in that journey, Fuld smiled a bit when asked if the heated reaction to the call after his throw surprised him. The play was one moment of many that define a season. Still, this was extra sweet.
“That’s the way things go now,” he said of the attention. “I don’t try to get caught up in the Twittersphere very much. But it doesn’t surprise me at all.”
It is only July. But on a steamy night in Boston, it felt much, much later.