Rajai Davis was already a 13-year MLB veteran when he signed a minor-league contract with the team he grew up supporting, the New York Mets. At 38 years old, the Connecticut-born outfielder’s career was winding down after an eventful run in the big leagues. His long career peaked during the 2016 season as a Cleveland Indian. He hit for just the eighth cycle in franchise history against the Toronto Blue Jays on 2nd July, leading the National League in stolen bases through the season and hit a game-tying two-man home run in the bottom eighth in game seven of the World Series. Despite Davis’ efforts, the Indians fell to the Chicago Cubs in extra innings after a historical series. However, the career-journeyman still had one last headline to make. No one could have predicted the bizarre events that happened on a single day which enabled Davis to score the most unlikely home run in history.
In Allentown, Pennsylvania on 22nd May 2019, The 38-year-old outfielder woke up expecting to take to the field for the New York Mets’ Triple-A affiliate team as the Syracuse Mets faced the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in a road game at Coca-Cola Park. “It was a normal day when it started,” Davis stated. However, it quickly took an unexpected turn. As he was taking his batting practice before the game, Davis was told he would not be in the team. Instead, the veteran was getting called up to the big leagues to face the Washington Nationals. He initially thought that the Syracuse Manager Tony DeFrancesco was playing a practical joke on him about the news, saying “(I)Thought the manager was playing around, playing a little joke.” What the outfielder did not know that the New York Mets were forced into placing Brandon Nimmo on the injury list after an MRI showed the 2011 first-rounder had a neck inflammation.
After realising that this was for real, Davis was in a race against time to get to Citi Field. The announcement came at around 5:00 PM, leaving roughly just 2 hours and ten minutes until the game’s opening pitch. The veteran showered and got out of Coca-Cola Park as quickly as possible to pack his things back at the hotel. What was the fastest way to get from Allentown, Pennsylvania to Flushing, Queens, New York without access to your own car? An Uber, of course! And that is precisely what Davis did.
When Jason Clinton, a part-time real estate investor, decided to drive for Uber that Wednesday, it is highly unlikely he thought he would be heading into the Big Apple, let alone taking someone to play for the team he supported as a kid there. However, at the start of the journey, Clinton was not aware of who stepped into his Acura MDX. Ten minutes after accepting the request to take a passenger to Queens, the driver, who later admitted that “I didn’t even realise what was happening,” was putting Davis’ Mets bags in the trunk of his car outside of the Hilton Garden Inn, jokily saying, “if they were Yankees’ bags, you’d have to ship them.” It took for Davis to say that he had to call his agent for Clinton to realise this was not just another passenger. After he pieced it all together, and Davis finished with the call, the two men engaged in what the 13-year MLB player called “good conversation.”
Davis stated “Me and Jason, we got to know each other” during their impromptu cross-state journey, with the driver describing his new acquaintance as a “great guy”. Clinton said that he asked the veteran what it was like playing in the minors, especially after playing in the big leagues for so long. According to the 41-year-old father of four, Davis remained focused while playing in Syracuse, using it to adjust his game, saying, “he said you meet some people that are bitter but you just have to keep your head on straight. He said he learned a lot in the minors. He talked about the changes he made as a hitter.” The two men also discussed the various teams the experienced outfielder had played for during his career. Davis featured for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the San Fransisco Giants, the Oakland Athletics, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Detroit Tigers and the Boston Red Sox during his career, making his debut for his eight MLB team later that night, as long as he made it in time. The two men also shared a common bond as both of them grew up supporting the Queens-based franchise.Embed from Getty Images
Despite Clinton admitting that he kept thinking “What if I made a wrong turn?” throughout the drive, the duo made it to Citi Field. However, they had trouble navigating as they got there. All Davis knew was he was meant to go to Gate G but had no idea where to go from there. The two were eventually guided to where they needed to be after Clinton kept repeating ‘Rajai’ to the security people working that day. The trip lasted from 5:34 PM to 7:54 PM, cost $283.86, with a $47.31 tip. The Mets organisation paid for the journey, with Davis saying to his team, “I’m not going to foot that bill.” Before the two parted ways, Clinton asked Davis if he could have a picture together, with the man who would soon to be making his Mets debut happily accepting. The two posed for a photo underneath the Citi Field sign outside of the stadium before saying their goodbyes.
With the game already in the third inning, Davis had to get to the clubhouse, get dressed and get to the dugout as soon as humanly possible. The only issue was, he did not know where the clubhouse was. “I feel like I got lost for about a month and half, and two months,” the veteran later admitted. Eventually, he asked the stadium staff for help. They finally sent him in the right direction, allowing the outfielder to get on his uniform and take to the dugout. “I think I saw him in the fifth or the sixth for the first time,” the Mets manager Mickey Callaway said after the game. It was not until the eighth inning Davis would step into the batter’s box, but how were the Mets fairing against the Washington Nationals up until that point?
The game was advertised as a battle between two Cy Young winners as the Nationals’ Max Scherzer, won the AL version in 2013 and NL one in 2016 and 2017, faced off against the Mets’ Jacob deGrom, who won the NL award in 2018. deGrom closed his opening inning only allowing one hit. Unfortunately for him though, it went out of the park. On the first pitch he faced, Adam Eaton, the Nats’ second man to the plate, hit the ball flying to deep right field and into the stands, giving his team the early 1-0 lead. The 2014 NL Rookie of the Year recovered well from conceding the early home run well, pitching five more innings before being relieved and only allowing one more hit during his time on the mound. He threw 103 pitches with an ERA of 3.72 and recorded eight strikeouts. However, Scherzer won the individual battle between the two at Citi Field. The likely-future Hall of Fame inductee allowed two more hits than his opposite pitcher but allowed no runs. He finished his game after 109 pitches thrown in six innings, ending his run of four consecutive starts with at least 110 pitches, with an ERA of 3.41, caused nine batters to strikeout and leaving seven runners stranded.
Robert Gsellman pitched the seventh inning for the Mets, with Joe Ross then Matt Grace taking the mound for Washington’s. Both teams reliever’s allowed zero hits before being switched after the inning was completed. Drew Gagnon continued this trend for the home side, giving this team an inning and a half to score one run to tie the ballgame. Although, the New York franchise had a poor record when trailing after seven innings, failing to salvage any of their 23 games where they were behind at that point this season. However, the Nationals bullpen had often let down Scherzer whenever the star pitcher had started this season, winning just twice in ten starts. In 2018, the league’s average ERA was 4.14. Up until this point, Washington’s bullpen had an ERA of 6.89. Something had to give as Kyle Barraclough prepared to throw for the away side at the bottom of the eighth.
Barraclough struck out J.D Davis, who was the first man he faced and forced Pete Alonso to Groundout. However, between these two outs, the Mets got on base. Adeiny Hechavarria delivering a line drive to deep centre-left field for a double. Barraclough was pulled from the game after walking Todd Frazier in four balls. With two Mets now on base, The Nationals sent Sean Doolittle to the mound. This decision immediately backfired as his first delivery hit Carlos Gomez, advancing him to first and loading the bases for the home side. Doolittle’s second delivery was disastrous. The Mets’ Dominican center fielder Juan Lagares connected sweetly with the pitcher’s delivery, sending a line drive to deep centre field for a double. This hit allowed all three men on base to reach home, giving the New York franchise a 3-1 lead. With Lagares in scoring position, the 2016 Silver Slugger award winner Wilson Ramos took to the plate. Washington’s manager Dave Martinez, aware of the damage Ramos was capable of producing, instructed his reliever to walk the Venezuelan catcher intentionally.
It was time. After preparing to play in the minors mere hours ago, a mad cross-state dash to get to the Flushing, Queens, a $283.86 Uber fee and getting lost outside and inside the stadium, Rajai Davis approached the plate to take his first at-bat for the team he grew up supporting, pitch hitting for Drew Gagnon. With the pitch count 2-2 after nine balls, Doolittle delivered a 94-mph fastball into the strike zone. Davis did not endure this hectic day just to be struck out. The 38-year-old veteran swung his bat. The crowd erupted as soon as he made contact. The ball soared through the sky into deep left field and cleared the wall with ease. Rajai Davis’ first hit for his boyhood team was a three-run, no-doubter home run. He pointed to the sky as he rounded the bases, with his smile so large it threatened to leave his face. After entering the inning trailing by one, New York now held a 6-1 lead.Embed from Getty Images
Despite Juan Soto registering a hit, the Nationals could not muster up a response. Mets’ Tyler Bashlor left Soto on base as the pitcher forced Anthony Rendon to lineout, struck out Matt Adams and made Kurt Suzuki groundout to the shortstop to end the game. The Mets’ moved to 23-25 as they defeated the Nationals for the third time in three days.
After the dust had settled, the players came out to address the media. A distraught Sean Doolittle admitted that he lost the game for his team saying “I’m really frustrated. I’m disgusted with myself. I let the team down, and it hurts.” Washington’s manager Dave Martinez called for optimism and belief, despite their 19-30 record, “It’s going to turn around but we have to believe that it will. We got to will it.” Martinez said.
It was highly unlikely that anyone outside the organisation believed the Nats’ manager when said that. However, he was right. The capital city team miraculously turned their season around. They transformed their 19-30 into a 93-69 record by the end of the season, earning an NL Wild Card playoff spot. In the postseason, the Nationals defeated the Milwaukee Brewers, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals as they reached their first World Series in franchise history. Washington went all the way, overcoming the highly ‘controversial’ (disgraceful cheaters) Houston Astros in seven games to win the 2019 World Championship, becoming the first team to win the World Series without winning a home game.
As for the Mets, well, there was only one man everyone wanted to talk about, Rajai Davis. According to his manager Mickey Callaway, the veteran once again struggled to find the clubhouse after the game, asking his teammates, ‘Which way do I go to get back in the clubhouse?’ Callaway, a member of the Cleveland Indians team that lost the 2016 World Series alongside Davis, was asked about the similarities between his game seven home run to the one he scored on the day. A reporter noted the stakes were not as high compared to his 2016 one. However, Callaway, who had been under fire and criticised in recent times, jokingly stated that he felt like they were the same for him. The manager went on to shower the home-run hero with praise, telling journalists “Everybody loves Raj. He’s the man.”
As you could guess, the press swarmed Davis after the game. The hero of the day recounted the events that occurred during his bizarre yet unforgettable day. However, Davis, who seemed to be the coolest man in the stadium, was humble about the whole ordeal, stating “I’m just really grateful and thankful for the opportunity the Mets gave me.” The 38-year-old journeyman went on to say “I was trying to make an impact right away and I was fortunate enough to be able to be put in that position, to make something happen.”
Back in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Jason Clinton had no idea of what his high-profile passenger had accomplished until he arrived back home. The Uber driver decided to google Davis’ name to learn more about him but was immediately met with the headlines the veteran had created. “It brought a tear to my eye,” Clinton said after watching the clip of the home run “I couldn’t believe it.” Clinton posted about his surreal experience on his Facebook profile before being thanked and wished well by over 500 Mets fan. The Allentown resident, who admitted that despite loving the Mets growing up, he became weary of baseball after going to all his brother Art’s games as a kid, was blown away by the reaction and relit a fire inside him, stating “I’m still on cloud nine. It’s overwhelming. It’s humbling. It’s brought back my love for baseball that I haven’t seen in awhile.”
The 2019 season would be Rajai Davis’ last in the MLB. Despite his heroics against the Nationals, the Mets’ designated the outfielder for assignment on 26th May. He cleared waivers and accepted an assignment back to the minor leagues, being outrighted off the major league roster two days later. However, this was not the end of his season as on 20th August, the Mets selected his contract, bringing him to the Majors for the final time of his career. Davis made 25 more appearances for his boyhood club, hitting three times from 26 plate appearances, earning 5 RBI and averaged a .200 batting average and a .231 on-base percentage. In 2020, Davis briefly appeared for the Mexican League side Acereros de Monclova but was released after seven months.
On 1st February 2021, Davis officially announced his retirement as a player but would continue in the sport after accepting a position in the baseball operations department of Major League Baseball. The Norwich, Connecticut native finished his career with 1,111 hits from 4,244 at-bats, scoring 62 home runs, with a .262 batting average and an on-base percentage of .311. He also earned 387 RBIs, scoring 637 runs himself and stole 415 bases, ranking him 66th on the all-time stolen bases list. His run as a player was filled with plenty of memorable moments. Still, the events that occurred on 22nd May 2019 may have been the most interesting tale of his professional career, certainly his most unlikely.
*Thank you to Baseball-Reference for the statistics, Yahoo’s Mike Mazzeo for the Hilton quotes and the Guardian for the Davis, Callaway, Martinez and Doolittle quotes.