Consider Jose Lobaton baseball’s latest unlikely hero.
Such are the spoils when you hit a walk-off home run in the postseason, as Lobaton did Monday during the Tampa Bay Rays’ 5-4 win over the Boston Red Sox during Game 3 of the American League Division Series.
Yet that wasn’t his intention when he stepped to the plate in the ninth inning.
“I don’t try to be a hero all the time,” Lobaton said Tuesday prior to Game 4 at Tropicana Field, where Lobaton will start behind the plate for the Rays. “Hopefully today I can do something to help the team. ... We are a team.”
Baseball is full of guys like Lobaton, who has nine career home runs in 564 regular-season at-bats.
There was back-up catcher Jim Leyritz, whose three-run home run off Atlanta closer Mark Wohlers helped the New York Yankees win the 1996 World Series; light-hitting shortstop Adam Kennedy, blasting three home runs for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the 2002 American League Championship Series; and Mark Podsednik and Geoff Blum, who combined to hit one home run during the regular season, lifting game-winning shots for the Chicago White Sox during the 2005 World Series.
Postseason heroics aren’t exclusive to big-time sluggers.
“I don’t normally watch postgame interviews, but I had to see or hear his,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon. “I know Lobey, how animated he was going to be, how honest he was going to be. ... I just thought it would be an interesting interview, and it was.
“Guys that do it all the time, I don’t necessarily want to hear what they have to say. But guys that don’t, that’s the guy I want to get tuned into.”
Lobaton’s home run landed in the rays touch tank in right center field. He and Detroit Tigers slugger – and reigning Triple Crown winner – Miguel Cabrera are the only two to accomplish that feat this season.
The only other person to reach the tank was the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Luis Gonzalez in 2006.
“I wasn’t trying that,” Lobaton said, adding he never did get the ball back. “I told (catcher Jose) Molina that, ‘I don’t care (where it lands) – if it’s a homer, it’s a homer.’”
As good as Monday’s moment felt, Lobaton said he was over it and focused on tonight’s game, which the Rays have to win in order to keep their season afloat.
“Now it’s over. Today’s a new day,” Lobaton said. “We won (Monday) night and everybody’s happy that we got another chance, and everybody’s ready for today.”
KJ THE DH: Kelly Johnson is the Rays’ designated hitter and will bat seventh tonight.
Maddon wanted a lefty in there against Boston righty Jake Peavy and chose Johnson over a struggling Matt Joyce, who is 0-for-7 with three strikeouts in the postseason.
“Kelly has got the real ability to the ball far, as you know, and he’s going to work some good at-bats,” Maddon said. “He’s been there before, he knows what it feels like. I’m kind of excited about see what he looks like tonight.”
Maddon also wanted Delmon Young available off the bench for the later innings. The plan worked Monday, when Young’s pinch-hit run-scoring groundout in the eighth snapped a 3-3 tie.
“Our bench is a big part of the victory (Monday). We’re not afraid to do things,” Maddon said. “Having Delmon as the wild card coming off the bench, with all the different things he may do, is kind of nice. “
PAY UP, DAD: In the midst of celebrating Monday’s dramatic win, Rays owner Stu Sternberg was reminded by his daughter Ella that he had to open his checkbook.
“We’re jumping, we’re hugging and everything,” Sternberg said Tuesday, “and she says, ‘Dad, you have to make a $10,000 donation.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, OK. Yeah’”
Whenever a home run lands in the touch tank, as Lobaton’s did, the Rays donate $5,000 to the Florida Aquarium, the tank’s caretaker, and another $5,000 to the home run hitter’s charity of choice.