One swing, and Choi turns defeat into victory

by Gary Shelton on September 11, 2018 · 2 comments

in Florida State University, general, Tampa Bay Rays

Choi's home run led the Rays to victory./JEFFREY S. KING

Tuesday, 3 a.m.

As home runs go, it only felt as if it was out of this world.

Choi celebrates as he rounds third base./JEFFREY S. KING

After all, it started halfway around it.

And as designated hitters go, well, Ji-Man is the man.

One out from having their record streak snapped, Ji-Man Choi launched a two-run homer off of Cleveland’s Brad Hand to lift Tampa Bay to a 6-5 win. It was Tampa Bay’s 12th straight win at home, a franchise record, and it lifted the Rays to 15 games over .500.

The Rays’  ninth walkoff win is more than the previous two seasons combined (7).

Pham jumps on the plate as team awaits hero Choi./JEFFREY S. KING

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Schultz pitched the ninth to get the win./JEFFREY S. KING

Choi, a designated hitter from South Korea, turned on an 0-1 pitch and hit into the right-field bleachers for the win. He pumped his first rounding first, and he launched a make-believe arrow from a make-believe bow after passing third. Then he was mobbed as the team celebrated its ninth walk-off win on the year (eight different players have authored  to the winning run).

Bauers had a two-run homer off of Kluber in the 2nd./JEFFREY S. KING

“It was my first walk-off home run and that was awesome,” Choi said through a translator. “I was just thinking at the plate, ‘Just come to me, so I can bring the win for the team,’ and it happened and I just felt great.”

It was Choi’s 15th home run of his career, but it was his first off of a left-handed pitcher.

“He’s been outstanding,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s done a really nice job of kind of staying the course. He didn’t get off to the hottest start for whatever reason. What these guys are doing here, they’re creating an environment that kind of brings out the confidence in everybody. It’s been special to sit and watch from afar that I think they feed off each other, they’ve done a good job of that.”

Mallex Smith dances after. hitting a double./JEFFREY S. KING

Leading up to the hit was Tommy Pham’s single through the right side of the infield. He was on first when Choi launched.

“When he hit it, I knew it was going to go,” Pham said.

Jake Bauers also had a two-run homer, his first since Aug. 1. He enjoyed Choi’s homer.

“He doesn’t say much in English, but I think his actions speak for himself,” Bauers said. “He’s infectious. Puts a smile on your face. Obviously everybody is going to be smiling when you get hits like that.”

Choi certainly had the steps down to celebrate the victory.

Wendle slides in after hitting a triple./JEFFREY S. KING

“My teammates (Willy) Adames and (Carlos) Gomez made up the dance moves and since we’ve been doing that, we just keep winning so I just keep doing it,” Choi said.

For the Rays, the entire night hardly went according to play. Tampa Bay jumped to a 4-1 lead and drove starter Corey Kluber from the game in the second inning. Kluber has been prominently regarded as a potential Cy Young candidate. But seven Cleveland relievers shut down the Rays afterward, and the Indians took a 5-4 lead into the ninth.

The Rays, however, are playing like a team that never acts as if it is out of a game.

“That’s the kind of attitude you have to have in this league,” Bauers said. “I think that if you go into something thinking that you aren’t going to be able to

Brandon Lowe takes the throw for a force-out./JEFFREY S. KING

do it, you aren’t. That’s something I figured out over the past month. I think that good teams know that it doesn’t matter what the score is, doesn’t matter who is on the mound, doesn’t matter who is at the plate, we can get this job done so why not. Sometimes it’s going to happen. Sometimes it’s not, but if you believe, at least you’ll give yourself that chance.”

The Rays are hopeful that Bauers’ home run helps him turn his recent slump around.

“That’s the hope,” Cash said. “You’d like to have that happen. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But you’d like for Jake to go home feeling pretty good about himself tonight. Gets him coming into tomorrow. We say this all the time, Jake is a young player. We have a lot of young players. They are going to have

a little bit of a rollercoaster for right now. Jake has to understand how patient we are going to be with him. We believe in Jake Bauers and I think tonight showed why.”

The Rays play the second game of their series with Cleveland tonight at 7:05. Tyler Glasnow will pitch for the Rays against Shane Bieber at Tropicana Field.

Adames takes the throw on Brantley's steal./JEFFREY S. KING

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