His teammates gathered at home plate, waiting to pounce on Pat Burrell as soon as Burrell circled the bases after his game-winning home run Tuesday night. Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon watched the scene unfold and found himself transported to another time when another designated hitter won a game for the Rays with a home run.
It was Cliff Floyd, and the joy on the faces of Floyd’s teammates was captured by a photographer, and a copy of that photo is enlarged and framed and hanging on a wall in Maddon’s office.
Floyd had battled through an injury and a slump when his ninth-inning home run beat the Chicago White Sox on May 30 of last year.
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Burrell has battled through an injury and a season-long slump when he beat the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday.
Floyd’s bat seemed to wake up after that home run.
Maddon hopes Tuesday’s home run does the same for Burrell.
“An at-bat like that is something that can carry you forward,” Maddon said before Wednesday’s game with the Jays.
Burrell has been blunt when he describes his season.
“I haven’t been performing. It’s that simple,” he said.
Burrell took a .222 average and four home runs into Wednesday’s game. The Rays were hoping for a little more on their investment when they signed Burrell to a two-year, $16 million contract in January. They were hoping the 6-foot-4, 235-pound slugger who averaged 31 home runs and 99 RBIs during his past four seasons would be the rock in the middle of the order.
So far that hasn’t happened.
“It’s not for lack of opportunity,” Burrell said.
There has been the adjustment to the new league and the adjustment to being a full-time designated hitter and the neck injury that forced Burrell to miss 29 games.
There has been a refreshing lack of excuses, too.
“He hangs in there,” Maddon said. “He’s very stoic. He doesn’t cry.”
Maybe that’s why Burrell’s teammates were so glad to see him win a game. That’s why the lads were so excited last season when Floyd beat the White Sox.
Burrell shows up early every day, works hard and doesn’t complain.
“You know,” Burrell said, “you just keep going.”
Can one hit turn a season around for a slumping slugger? Maddon, the eternal optimist, thinks so. Especially when that hit traveled 418 feet to the left-field seats and won a ball game in the bottom of the 11th.
“His time is coming,” Maddon said.
If so, it’s about time.
The Rays could use a big second half from Burrell if they want to get back to the playoffs. They could use some consistency in the rotation, too. And a little tighter defense.
Maybe it happens. Maybe it doesn’t.
Burrell had a big night against his old team, the Philadelphia Phillies, two weeks ago. Remember? He hit a two-run homer in his first at-bat and kept an eighth inning rally alive by hitting a grounder so slow that the Phillies couldn’t get the third out. Burrell said after that game he hoped things would turn around for him. They didn’t.
Against the Jays on Wednesday, Burrell legged out a double in his first at-bat, giving him extra-base hits in consecutive at-bats for the first time this year. He singled in his second at-bat. He scored both times.
“We’re all happy for Pat,” Maddon said after Tuesday’s game.
It was the fourth game-winning home run of Burrell’s career. That game-winner Floyd hit last year? Was the fourth of his career.