Is there really such thing as clutch players? Sabermetric guys can tell you all they want that it’s all luck, but we will always believe that there are. Some great players just for some reason can’t come through when the game is on the line and some mediocre guys seem to rise up to occasion every time. Jose Lobaton is in just his second full year in the major leagues and we can’t be sure just how good he will be. But after he followed up his walk-off triple on Friday with a walk-off homer on Sunday, we can so with certainty that Jose Lobaton is a clutch player.
Lobaton caught Chris Archer on Sunday as he matched up against St. Petersburg native Todd Redmond, and the two pitchers went neck-and-neck all afternoon. Archer went 7 innings allowing just 1 run on 4 hits, striking out 5 while walking one, while Redmond went 6+ innings giving up a run on 6 hits, striking out 6 while walking 1. The parallels ran a little farther as both pitchers worked primarily of their fastballs and using their slider as effective secondary pitches while basically abandoning their changeups. Archer threw his changeup just twice and Redmond threw his just four times. But both pitchers were able to keep the opposition off balance with just their primary two pitchers, both making just one big mistake. The Rays took the lead against Redmond in the first inning on an Evan Longoria opposite-field homer, but the Blue Jays tied it in the 7th on Edwin Encarnacion‘s solo shot. Archer and Redmond had done their job, but the game had become a battle of the bullpens.
Redmond’s outing ended on a sorry note in the 7th inning as he allowed singles to James Loney and Yunel Escobar, with Sean Rodriguez, who had pinch-run for Loney, advancing to third. In came lefty Brett Cecil to replace Redmond, though, and he dashed the Rays’ hopes in a flash. Joe Maddon had Jason Bourgeois pinch-hit for Kelly Johnson and the move totally backfired as Bourgeois failed to connect on a squeeze bunt and Rodriguez got picked off third base. A groundout and a strikeout later and the Rays had blown a golden opportunity. Cecil also tossed a perfect 8th and Joel Peralta did the same for the Rays, striking out 2 in the process. Then Fernando Rodney and Sergio Santos each got around a hit in the 9th to toss a scoreless inning each. But after Jake McGee struck out 1 in a perfect 10th for the Rays, Jose Lobaton stepped up against Brad Lincoln with 1 out and ended the game in a flash. Lincoln left a fastball up and middle-in and Lobaton didn’t miss it, drilling a walk-off homer into the right field seats as the Rays won 2-1.
The Rays desperately hoped to win this series against the Blue Jays to keep pace with the Boston Red Sox, and with help from Lobaton, Archer, and the bullpen, they did just that. The Rays have had quite a flair for the dramatic lately, and while it would be nice if they won a little more handily, they are getting the job done and keeping the pressure on Boston day after day. The Rays will begin a key three-game series with the Baltimore Orioles on Camden Yard on Monday, with David Price taking on Chris Tillman in the opener.