Gross recalls memorable throw vs. Rays
Outfielder came through in '05 after defensive substitution
ST. PETERSBURG -- Whenever the Rays play the Blue Jays, as they did Thursday afternoon, Gabe Gross is likely to be reminded about a play that occurred during a Toronto-Tampa Bay game on June 28, 2005, at Tropicana Field, when Gross still played for the Blue Jays.
And with good reason -- that game featured one of the odder occurrences one is likely to see at a ballgame.
The Rays and Jays were tied at 1 in the bottom of the 10th inning, when Tampa Bay was threatening with Eric Munson on third representing the winning run with one out in the inning and Julio Lugo stepping to the plate. That's when Toronto manager John Gibbons had an epiphany: Why not put somebody in left field who had a chance to throw out Munson at home on a fly ball to left?
Gibbons looked down his bench for such a creature and called on Gross to take over for Frank Catalanotto in left field. Gross, who was a former quarterback at Auburn, always had a powerful throwing arm.
"I remember it was getting late in the game, and I thought about going in as a defensive replacement since they did that every now and then," Gross said. "So I'd gotten ready a little bit. The inning before, I'd thrown some into a net, which doesn't really help that much to get loose, but I'd done that. But then they didn't put me in that inning. I'm just standing over there like a knot on a log when [Gibbons] hollers down at me to get ready. I'm like, 'OK, no problem.'"
Gross ran to his position, eager to perform.
"I wanted the ball to be hit to me, but I didn't know how my arm would react to it," Gross said. "Second pitch, ball comes right at me."
Gross flagged down Lugo's fly ball and Munson tagged at third before heading for home.
"I thought the ball was deep enough, and I'm like, 'Game over,'" said Tom Foley, who was the Rays' third-base coach that day, as he is today. "And I'm like, '[Munson] isn't moving.' ... I still thought he'd score, though. I really did think it was deep enough to score."
Gross' throw arrived at home at the same time as Munson.
"Adrenaline is a wonderful thing, because I definitely wasn't loose enough to throw a ball like that," Gross said. "It came out, and as soon as it came out, I knew I made a good throw."
Munson couldn't decide whether to take out catcher Ken Huckaby or to slide. He ended up sliding and was tagged out.
"Huckaby's play was better than the throw," Gross said. "If [Munson] would have run him over, the ball would have been separated. But Ken had it blocked so well that it gave him time to kind of block it, catch it and make the tag."
The unlikely double play kept the Jays alive, and they took a 3-1 win in 11 innings.
"It was just weird, they didn't put me in until there was one out," Gross said. "So [Gibbons] physically puts me out there in the odd event the ball is hit to me in left. Wierd. And, of course, it happens. It was a pretty nice little moment. Doing stuff defensively gives me a bigger charge than anything. I really enjoy taking outs away -- especially if I can throw a guy out."
Foley, who remembered the play well but had forgotten the fact Gross threw the ball, shook his head and smiled thinking about the play.
"I've never seen anybody call a timeout in the middle of the inning and tell an outfielder to go out to left field for something like that," Foley said. "Ball's hit to left field, throws him out, we lose the game. Amazing."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.