06/07/09 2:14 PM ET
Choate's return to the Bronx a success
Reliever gets key out in Rays' Saturday win over Yanks
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
The veteran left-hander recorded two saves a week earlier against the Twins at Tropicana Field before returning to the mound on Saturday to face Robinson Cano, who plays for the team with which Choate began his career.
The Yankees drafted Choate out of Florida State in the fifth round of the 1997 First-Year Player Draft, and he spent his first four years in the Major Leagues with the Yankees from 2000-03.
So you can bet Choate's heart skipped a few beats when he entered the game on Saturday. Not only was he facing the potential tying run in the form of Cano, he was facing a head full of memories collected while playing for the team wearing pinstripes.
Choate started off Cano with a slider for ball one before the Yankees second baseman swung at Choate's second pitch.
"I'm really glad he swung at that 1-0 pitch," Choate said. "It was a decent pitch, but it probably would have been a ball if he hadn't have swung."
The count went to 3-2 before Choate threw another fastball to Cano, who swung and hit a screaming line drive to deep center field. B.J. Upton drifted back then chased a little harder at the last minute, battling the sun and the background that stared back at him before hauling in the ball in the palm of his glove.
"[Once the ball was hit], I'm thinking, 'Stay in the park,' especially the way the ball carries here" Choate said. "With two outs, I knew [the outfielders would] be playing doubles, so they'd be back. I see B.J. going back, line drive right at him -- those are the toughest ones for outfielders to catch, and he made the catch."
Choate has had to quickly dispel any self-doubt he might have carried with him from Triple-A Durham to the Rays when the team selected his contract on May 25 as a replacement for the injured Brian Shouse, and his return to New York is among the mental obstacles he's tackled. And thus far he has been sucessful, with three saves and a 2.70 ERA in five appearances.
"I haven't necessarily always gotten ahead of the hitter or thrown the strikes, and that's been, I think, one of the big reasons why I've been up and down in the big leagues the past several years," Choate said. "To be able to come in and show that I can, for the most part, get ahead of hitters is big for me."
On Saturday, Choate said he had to block out any emotion he might have been feeling about going against the Yankees.
"My job is to get left-handers out," Choate said. "That's my main focus. Whether it's the sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth. Is it nice [when] it happens with two outs in the ninth? Of course. And being here [at Yankee Stadium] makes it a little bit special, because it's the first time I've been back to play in here. I try not to put too much stock into any of that. Whether [we're] playing Toronto or Oakland or the Yankees, I've still got to go in there and do my job."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.