ST. PETERSBURG — Jose Lobaton, a known ice cream aficionado, found another way to sprinkle more magic on the Rays' season.
For the second time in three days, the Tampa Bay catcher lifted the Rays to a victory in walk-off fashion, belting a 10th inning solo home run on Sunday to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 victory against Toronto in front of an announced crowd of 23,373 at Tropicana Field, improving the Rays to 19-0-1 in the past 20 series at home against the Blue Jays, a streak that dates back to 2007.
And for the second time in three days, with his parents sitting in the stands, Lobaton found has face lathered in a postgame ice cream pie following a game-winning hit while trying to find enough hands to hold all the frozen tasty treats his teammates delivered.
“Today, I got, I don't know, like 10 ice creams,” Lobaton said. “(David) Price gave me like four, Matt Joyce gave me five and then I was doing the (television) interview and I had like 10 in my hand, and I couldn't eat it right then.”
No doubt there was plenty of it available for consumption on the team's charter flight to Baltimore on Sunday night. Rays manager Joe Maddon delivered a five-gallon tub of ice cream to Lobaton on the plane, a photo of which was available on the catcher's Twitter account.
Tampa Bay finished the homestand 4-2, with three of those four victories coming courtesy of walk-off wins, two off the bat of Lobaton, who delivered a game-winning triple on Friday. Sunday's homer came on a 2-1, 92-mph fastball from Brad Lincoln. They are the first two walk-off hits of his career.
“This is different (than Friday), a (walk-off triple) is amazing, a walk-off homer to run the bases like that knowing you won the game is something unbelievable,” said Lobaton, who struck out in his previous three at-bats Sunday. “It's something you want to do all the time, you want to feel that every day and hopefully this is not the last one.”
Watching Lobaton get mobbed by his teammates at home plate marked another memorable moment for a Rays team that seems to have had many of them this summer, sporting the best record in the American League since June 28 with a 29-13 mark.
“When magic does occur, good things happen,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “We've had some pretty magical moments from the bottom of the order, it's magical when a ball hits the edge of the fence and comes back instead of going over the wall. ... Things like that, those are the things that when we have our better years, we get that tremendous defense and pitching, then you get those little funky things that happen . . . walk off triples by catchers, walk off home runs after a guy (strikes out) three times . . . it's got that feel to it.” The Rays' win, coupled with Boston's loss Sunday night to the New York Yankees, trimmed the Red Sox's lead over Tampa Bay in the AL East to one game.
Tampa Bay jumped out to the lead early when Evan Longoria hit his 24th home run of the season, an opposite field shot into the right-field stands off St. Petersburg native Todd Redmond, for a 1-0 lead. And it looked like Rays starter Chris Archer was going to make the lead stand up, pitching brilliantly for six innings and allowing only one hit.
The lead was lost in the top of the seventh when Edwin Encarnacion belted a 1-2 slider from Archer into the left-field stands to tie the game.
Tampa Bay had a golden opportunity to retake the lead in the bottom of the inning. James Loney led off with a single and was replaced by pinch-runner Sean Rodriguez. Yunel Escobar lined a hit-and-run single to center to put runners on first and third. But Rodriguez got hung up on a safety squeeze after Jason Bourgeois missed the bunt, and was tagged out during a run down.
“I was being too aggressive,” Rodriguez said. “I was trying to make something out of nothing with no outs, and I do have a tendency to be an aggressive base runner, but I have to know when to tone it down a little bit or just hold back. With no outs, that's the best time to just chill and I messed up.”
It nearly proved costly when Encarnacion drilled a line drive down the left-field line with two outs in the top off the ninth off Fernando Rodney. But the ball, targeted for the shortened fence area, instead struck the yellow padding at the top of the lowered wall and spun back into play for a double.
“We knew it was going for the 'Landing' area, but we just did not know if it was hit well enough or not,” Maddon said of the view from the Rays' dugout. “It hit the edge and kicked back. ... Very, very lucky.”
Jake McGee then pitched a perfect 10th, setting the stage again for Lobaton's heroics, which continues to run up the price on the ice cream bill.
“I don't mind that,” Rodriguez said. “We'll give him as much ice cream as he wants.”