Floyd's walk-off homer wins it for Rays
Ninth-inning blast gives outfielder's club dramatic win
ST. PETERSBURG -- Cliff Floyd is the "Big Daddy" of the Rays and on Friday night, one swing of his bat produced yet another win.
The elder statesman of the Rays, with shoulders as broad as his native Chicago, led off the bottom of the ninth and promptly rerouted an 0-1 offering from Scott Linebrink toward center field like a well-struck 3-iron. Once the baseball landed over the wall in center field, the Rays had a 2-1 win over the White Sox in front of a crowd of 14,679 at Tropicana Field.
Floyd's blast brought the Rays their fifth walk-off win of the season and gave him the fourth walk-off home run of his career. The eager faces of the youngsters surrounding home plate waiting for the gimpy-legged Floyd to round the bases spoke volumes about what a special moment it was. Floyd, 35, is beloved in the clubhouse and his teammates were excited for the win and for Floyd, who missed 30 games earlier in the season after having right knee surgery.
"That keeps you going, feeling young," Floyd said. "... They know I've been through tough times early on this year. And they know I'm here for everybody. I mean, we're pulling for one another. I'm pulling, I think, a little extra because of what some of the guys have been through. And I just want to contribute. And just to see the guys smiling and jumping.
"Before I went up there, everybody told me to end the game. So I had a little more pressure than I wanted to have going up to hit. To contribute to this team, man, the way we all been going out there trying to get it done for nine innings. I'll sleep a ton better."
By winning the Rays moved back to 11 games over .500 at 33-22 to remain atop the American League East, while also maintaining the best record in the AL. The Rays are 6-2 on the current homestand and have won 18 of their last 21 since April 22.
Had Evan Longoria reached base in the eighth, Rays manager Joe Maddon intended to pinch-hit switch-hitting Willy Aybar for Floyd against hard-throwing White Sox lefty Matt Thornton. But that's not the way it went down.
"Things work in mysterious ways," Floyd said.
Floyd had some familiarity with Linebrink from playing against him in the National League.
"Linebrink's a fastball pitcher," Floyd said. "If you go up there looking for anything else, you set yourself up for failure. He's been doing great for a long time. I'm glad I know him a little bit from San Diego. He caught me in between -- because he's kind of quick to the plate -- on the first pitch. I said to myself on the second pitch, 'Be ready, whatever happens, be ready.' And he gave me another fastball."
Floyd's blast produced the first earned run allowed by the White Sox bullpen in the last 10 games. Count Linebrink among the more surprised about the outcome as he thought he had made his pitch, which he said was a sinker.
"I thought it was a little up but [catcher] A.J. [Pierzynski] said it was down," Linebrink said. "He went down and got it. It was the pitch I wanted to [throw]. I executed so I can't feel bad about that."
Initially Floyd thought the blast had enough to leave the park, but he began to have second thoughts.
"I thought I hit it pretty darn good," Floyd said. "When I got to first I thought, 'I better get this old body going. If it comes off the wall, I've got to at least be on third base to give us three chances to get in.' I was very happy to get it over."
James Shields started for the Rays Friday night and pitched well despite struggling with his fastball command. He allowed one run on seven hits and a walk with six strikeouts in six innings to pick up a no-decision. The lone blemish on his line came in the fifth, when Alexei Ramirez hit a 1-2 offering from Shields into the left-field stands for his second home run of the season to tie the game at 1.
Once again the Rays' defense gave a stellar effort with inning-ending double plays in the second and third innings to help Shields escape jams. The Rays' defense has been so good lately that even when they do something wrong, it turns out right, as it did in the fifth, when Pierzynski hit a pop fly into shallow center field. Akinori Iwamura and Jason Bartlett drifted back from second base and shortstop while B.J. Upton charged forward from center field. Iwamura or Bartlett could easily have caught the ball, but they backed off at the last minute due to a classic case of "I got it, you take it." Once the ball fell in -- giving Pierzynski his 1,000th career hit -- Upton grabbed it and fired to second base, which Longoria alertly covered. The Rays third baseman took the throw and put the tag on Pierzynski for the third out of the inning.
Al Reyes, J.P. Howell, and Dan Wheeler followed with three scoreless innings of relief, with Wheeler picking up his first win of the season.
"Well played game," Maddon said. "Pitched great. Just knew it was going to be a low-scoring game. ... Great game."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.