ST. PETERSBURG — Jose Lobaton blocked a pitch in the dirt in the top of the ninth inning with the go-ahead run on third base. That was good.
He tripled home the winning run in the bottom of the inning to give the Tampa Bay Rays another walk-off victory this week. That was great.
But the best part of Lobaton's night happened a few steps outside the Rays' clubhouse when he saw his parents, who traveled from Venezuela to see their son play in the big leagues for the first time.
“I saw my dad's face” Lobaton said. “He was pretty happy.”
There were plenty of happy faces Friday night at Tropicana Field as the Rays extended their winning streak to three games with a 5-4 victory against the Toronto Blue Jays with 15,433 in attendance.
Lobaton tripled home Yunel Escobar with the winning run, giving the Rays two walk-off wins in their last three games.
They Rays also moved within a game of first place after the Boston Red Sox lost to the New York Yankees at Fenway Park.
“We're playing with a lot of energy,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “I hope that we continue to see resiliency and the fact that there's perseverance and there's no quite.”
The energy Friday was provided by Jeremy Hellickson, who turned in his best outing in four starts. Hellickson still struggled with two outs, allowing all three of his runs to score after recording the first two outs of the inning.
“It's very frustrating,” “Hellickson said. “I didn't give up the big inning like I had been, but I still gave up three runs with two outs (and that) is really, really frustrating.”
But he did pitch himself out of trouble in the fourth inning, when he allowed consecutive singles to start the inning then got a double-play grounder and pop foul to Lobaton.
“Obviously, it was better than the last three,” Hellickson said. “I actually gave us a chance to win. It's amazing what these guys can do when you keep them within striking distance.”
More energy came from Matt Joyce, who homered for the first time since June 15, snapping a career-long 123-game homerless streak.
“I feel like it's been years,” Joyce said. “I almost forgot what that felt like.”
Escobar, playing against his former team, tripled and scored the Rays' first run of the game, drove in the tying run in the seventh inning with a chopper to first base that scored James Loney and turned a rally-ending double play in the eighth inning after the Jays scored a run off Joel Peralta to tie the score at 4-4.
But the biggest jolt for the Rays came from Lobaton, who got Hellickson through his six innings, drove in Escobar in the third inning with a single, blocked that changeup in the dirt from Fernando Rodney that kept the go-ahead run at third (Maddon calls that an RBO for runs blocked out) and ended the night with the first walk-off hit of his career.
“When was the last time a major league catcher hit a walk-off triple? I don't know,” Maddon said. “Incredible.”
Actually that was June 1 when Ryan Doumit did it for the Seattle Mariners. Before that, it was Dioner Navarro in 2012 for the Cincinnati Reds. Until Lobaton, those were the only walk-off three-baggers by catcher since 1994.
Lobaton delivered the fourth walk-off triple in the majors this year and the third in franchise history. Ben Zobrist did it against Seattle in 2012 and Sam Fuld hit one against Kansas City in 2011.
On the weirdness factor of Lobaton ending the night with a triple, Joyce said, “Man, wow, that one ranks really, really high for me. That might be tops in my book. I never would have guess that one.”
Escobar drew a walk to lead off the inning, and Lobaton sent a fastball on the outside part of the plate into the right field corner.
“I told Escy after that inning, 'I don't know how I catch that ball.' I saw a ball I had no chance to block. I was just trying to catch it,” Lobaton said. “After I catch the ball I was so nervous. I was like, 'Wow I did it. I caught that ball. I blocked it.' That was pretty fun. After that I said maybe I can do something better hitting, and I got a triple. Maybe I can keep blocking and making triples.”
For his efforts, Lobaton was doused with Gatorade, smacked in the face with a whipped-cream pie and handed not one, but two forms of ice cream from Joyce.
“He had to get two ice creams,” Joyce said. “I gave him a little ice cream then an ice-cream sandwich. I figured a triple, man, he needs something.”
Drenched and holding his ice cream, Lobaton found his parents, Tomas and Maria, and his wife and his daughter outside the Rays' clubhouse. He took a picture with his dad.
The Lobatons have been here watching their son play.
“First time, they're going to want to see me do something good,” Lobaton said. “(Thursday) I got a base hit and my dad was kind of happy. (Friday night) I saw him he was really happy. That's what I want for my family, for them to enjoy the game, too.”