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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Lobaton fills role of unlikely Rays hero

ST. PETERSBURG — Ice cream for everyone!

And it wasn’t even Jose Lobaton’s birthday.

“If I keep hitting, I’m going to get fat,’’ Lobaton said.

It was child-like innocence, something out of Little League. Get the hit. Win the game. Eat the ice cream.

There was hardly time to process that Lobaton, a switch-hitting catcher who was pinch-hitting for the Rays, had just smacked a walk-off, two-out solo home run in the ninth inning. It lifted Tampa Bay past the Boston Red Sox 5-4 in Monday night’s Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Tropicana Field.

Upon further inspection, the moment seemed even more improbable. Lobaton went deep on Red Sox closer Koji Uehara, the unhittable one, who had not allowed a home run since June 30.

Uehara had permitted just one earned run in his final 37 appearances of the regular season (0.22 ERA). In Game 2 of the ALDS, Uehara pitched a perfect ninth against the Rays (11 pitches, all strikes).

“Koji has been pretty good,’’ said Rays manager Joe Maddon, in deadpan style.

“It’s what I would consider the unforeseen,’’ said Red Sox manager John Farrell, in double-deadpan style.

The Rays were Team Walk-Off during the regular season, getting 11 walk-off hits to tie the franchise record from 2011. Lobaton had two of them. As is his custom, any time he figures in the game-winning outcome, Lobaton is served ice cream.

“I was thinking if he (Lobaton) hits a home run here, we don’t have enough ice cream to feed the boy,’’ Maddon said. “Then I look up and the ball is headed toward the tank (in center field). Nobody hits home runs there. Nobody does. How about that? It’s incredible.’’

“That was a moment to remember,’’ said Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, who was celebrating a birthday, his 28th, and had the game-tying three-run homer. “Lobaton came through and now we can hopefully carry that momentum into (Game 4).’’

After Ben Zobrist and Longoria made two quick outs in the ninth, extra innings seemed like a probability. The pitcher’s spot was in the fourth slot after Maddon surrendered the designated hitter when right fielder Wil Myers was lifted from the game with cramps.

Maddon turned to Lobaton.

“If you work out his abilities versus that pitcher’s abilities, if you’re going to bet some bucks on that, you’re going to lose,’’ Maddon said. “It’s not normally going to happen. But he climbed all over that.

“It (the pitch) was down, but he got the head of the bat on it and the rest is Rays’ history. It’s really an incredible game to participate in.’’

Especially for Lobaton.

“It’s weird,’’ Lobaton said. “You’re thinking about a lot of things. I was running. I was saying, ‘Thank God!’ It was my first hit of the postseason.

“It’s something that’s hard to explain. A lot of things are running through your mind. You’re running the bases like a kid. It’s something I will always remember.’’

And Rays fans will always remember Lobaton.

He now joins Longoria and Dan Johnson for the most unforgettable home runs in franchise history.

If the Rays keep this momentum going — they are 4-for-4 in elimination games over the past eight days — Lobaton’s moment will become even larger.

“You know that gives us one more game,’’ Lobaton said.

One more game.

At least.

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