Although Ben Zobrist is usually applauded for his strong defensive skills, Rays fans are also used to seeing Zobrist’s consistent offensive performance these days. After the Houston Astros traded Zobrist to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2006, Zobrist played shortstop in 2006 and 2007 but struggled offensively. His hitting further developed in 2008 but increased significantly in 2009. On April 17, 2009, Zobrist showed everyone how much he was worth offensively in a dramatic 6-5 win over the Chicago White Sox.
Carlos Pena began the Ray’s offensive action with a leadoff homerun in the top of the second inning off of Chicago pitcher Bartolo Colon. The top of the third inning was eventful for Rays starting pitcher James Shields as he gave up a double to A.J. Pierzynski, followed by Brian Anderson’s single to center field. The action continued as Pierzynski scored off of Chris Getz’ double, and Josh Fields batted in Anderson. However, Shields escaped further damage when he struck out Carlos Quentin to record the final out of the inning.
Things continued to get interesting for Shields as he walked Alexei Ramirez and Anderson back-to-back in the top of the fifth inning. Fortunately, Chicago scored no runs during the inning, but Tampa Bay was able to in the bottom of the inning as Dioneer Navarro scored off of Jason Bartlett’s double to left field. Colon struck out B.J. Upton to record his third strikeout of the evening.
The sixth inning was the most explosive inning of the game as Quentin hit a leadoff homerun for Chicago. It was followed by Thome’s single and Jermaine Dye’s two-run homerun, giving the White Sox a 5-2 lead over the Rays. But, Tampa Bay refused to let Chicago stay in the lead as Evan Longoria hit a double to right field. Colon struck out Pena but quickly found himself in hot water, after loading the bases by giving up a single to Pat Burrell and walking Navarro. Reliever Matt Thornton replaced Colon, and Ben Zobrist stepped up to the plate, pinch-hitting for Gabe Gross. Zobrist ripped one to left field, making it a grand slam to put the Rays ahead 6-5.
Zobrist went on to hit a single in the bottom of the eighth inning but was later picked off at first base. Although the White Sox were productive in the ninth inning, as pinch-hitter Wilson Betemit hit a single to right field, while his pinch runner, Brent Lillibridge, stole two bases, it was not enough for the Sox to rally a late win.
Ben Zobrist went on to have a fantastic season in 2009, as he had a career high .297 batting average and .405 on base percentage in 152 games played. Zobrist was also one of the five Rays who played in the 2009 All-Star game. While Rays fans are used to seeing Zobrist make big plays now, this game in 2009 gave everyone a glimpse of what was to come for the utility player.