Choi brings joy with his walk-off home run

by Gary Shelton on September 25, 2019 · 0 comments

in general

Choi celebrates his walk-off homer against the Yankees./CHUCK MULLER

They are all different, these walk-off situations. Some players run to the outfield. Some run away from the guys with the Gatorade. Some have their shirts ripped off. Some are drenched. Some are pounded on by their teammates.

Any way, the site is one of the joyful (Choi-ful?) images of baseball.

The thrilling Tampa Bay Rays were bouncing in victory again late Tuesday night. This time, it was Ji-Man Choi, who hit a home run to seal a 2-1, 12-inning win over the powerful New York Yankees.

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Kiermaier celebrates his homer with Willy Adames./CHUCK MULLER

Ah, yes. Fun at the old ballpark.

The walk-off was the tenth of the year for the Rays, and their eighth in their last 23 games. It was their third walk-off win of the homestand. It was the team's seventh straight extra inning win.

This time, Choi raised his right arm as he ran from first to second. He spread his arms like an airplane as he approached third. He tossed his helmet, then pantomimed a soccer kick as he approached his teammates, who were armed with Gatorade and talcum powder.

Choi's walk-off homer was the club’s first hit since Tommy Pham's 5th-inning single.

“He just knocked the ball out of the ballpark," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We needed it. Our pitching has been running on fumes. Those guys stepped up so big today. It was really, really impressive. [Ji-Man] comes up, not a lot of offense going on either team. Their bullpen is just lights out. Our bullpen, lights out. Three homers was the deciding of the ballgame and Ji-Man’s was the biggest.

Duffy adjusts his battered headgear./CHUCK MULLER

“We’ve known that (he's a clutch hitter) for a while. We have been running him out there quite a bit. We knew he was a really good hitter. He has come up clutch a lot. To me, the defense is what has really showed up this year and I think he surprised us all on how good his defense has been. The bat plays and he has a pretty simple swing. Not a lot of moving parts to it, he just has quick hands and he can get to a lot of pitches.”

Choi had questioned himself before the home run.

"During the game I could see the ball well, but I wasn’t able to physically hit the ball well," Choi said. "Before the at-bat I was thinking to myself why I couldn’t hit well so I was just waiting for the ball and I was able to hit the ball out of the park.”

The Rays stayed a game and a half behind Oakland and a half-game ahead of Cleveland in the Wild Card race.

Starter Yonny Chirinos gave up just one run in three innings, but the other eight relievers threw shutout ball. Pete Fairbanks had a key strikeout of Brett Gardner in the twelfth with the winning run on second base.

"I’m just glad I gave us another chance in the bottom, for Ji-Man to come up and hit that. ...So, it was big," Fairbanks said. "I didn’t want to be the guy that let everybody else down. ...Fortunately, Ji-Man was able to do that for us.

“They’re a good lineup. I think we had a good plan and whatever [Kyle] Snyder and our guys are putting together for us, we’re able to execute
on it. I think that knowing we are able to go out there a get ahead and execute our pitches that expand the strike zone, get them to swing at stuff they don’t want to, I think that will help us compete with anybody.”

Kevin Kiermaier hit a homer in the fifth for the Rays' only other run.

"This is what it’s all about," Kiermaier said. "This is what you play for. We are a bunch of grown men and a moment like that happens and we look like little kids running out there. It’s the best feeling in the world. Words cannot describe it. Ji-Man has been great for us all year and coming up big for us once again with a huge homer to end it in dramatic fashion. It’s amazing. Walk-offs are always so much fun, especially standing there at home plate just waiting for him.

"I don’t know what that little episode he did there (was) with the (soccer kick), but hilarious. That’s who he is and he can hit. So much fun. What a great time to be a Ray. This is so much fun. I will remember this season regardless of what happens the rest of my life. It’s truly amazing, it really is.”

The Rays play the Yankees again tonight at 7:10 p.m. at Tropicana Field. Charlie Morton will start for Tampa Bay against New York's Jonathan Loaisiga.

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