There was Joe Carter, Carlton Fisk, Derek Jeter, Aaron “Bleeping” Boone and of course there was Kirk Gibson. Those are just a few of the men who hit some of the most memorable homeruns during Major League Baseball’s postseason. Now, we can add Tampa Bay backup catcher Jose Lobaton to that esteemed list.
It was Game 3 of the American League Division Series. The Boston Red Sox had won the first two games at Fenway and they were looking for a tidy three-game sweep. The Sox quickly went up three runs early and the Rays looked hopeless against right-hander Clay Buchholz. Then a little St. Pete magic started to brew. First, All-Star and face-of-the-franchise third baseman Evan Longoria tied up the score with a three-run round-tripper in the 5th. The Rays would take the lead in the 8th inning, only to see their turbulent closer Fernando Rodney, blow the lead in the top of the 9th.
With two outs and Red Sox dominating closer Koji Uehara seemigly cruising to an easy one, two, three inning – Jose Lobaton stepped up to the plate. It was his first at bat of the night because he was a defensive replacement for Jose Molina who was pinch hit for in the 8th. The 28-year-old Venezuelan native with a fairly paltry .228 career batting average delivered exactly what the Rays needed to survive another day, a walk-off solo homerun. The crowd erupted and the Tampa bench cleared to greet the smiling Lobaton as he crossed homeplate. It was the first homerun off of Uehrara since Jose Bautista’s blast way back on June 30th.
Lobaton tried to put into words what it felt like to play hero for the night, “You just run the bases like a kid when you get a homer,” Lobaton said. “And it’s a different feeling. To hit a homer in that situation is something special. Something that you can’t explain.”
Here’s a look at the clutch homerun:
The Rays still have a long road ahead of them as they prepare for another elimination game against the Red Sox tonight back at St. Pete. Game 4 of the series features veteran right-hander Jake Peavy for the Red Sox facing former Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson who has had a tough year pitching for Tampa. Only time will tell whether Lobaton’s walk-off was merely a stay of execution or a turning point for the Rays in the series. So far, Tampa is 4-0 when faced with do-or-die.
Lobaton earned himself a spot in the starting lineup tonight as Rays manager Joe Maddon no doubt will try to stay with the hot hand. The switch-hittting catcher will bat ninth.
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