10/8/2013 8:49 P.M. ET
Rays owner Sternberg expecting the unexpected
By Bill Chastain and Adam Berry / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg took a few minutes during batting practice to talk about Jose Lobaton's walk-off homer Monday night and the attendance for Tuesday night's Game 4 at Tropicana Field.
Sternberg called Lobaton's walk-off homer against Red Sox closer Koji Uehara "absolutely the most unexpected moment" and one of the most surprising hits in recent franchise history -- no small amount of praise considering the heroics of Dan Johnson and Evan Longoria in 2008 and 2011, respectively.
More than anything, Sternberg said, he was pleased that Lobaton's solo shot prevented Boston from sweeping Tampa Bay, something that would have been "unbelievably embarrassing," he said.
As for his Game 4 prediction? He's once again expecting the unexpected.
"Most people don't expect us to be in Boston. They might think we can win the game, but jeez, it could actually get back to Boston? So I actually feel good about that," Sternberg said. "It's more about human nature. Life has a way of doing the thing that most people least expect."
The Rays' owner said he expected another sold-out crowd for Game 4. A few hours before first pitch, Sternberg said, there were only a couple hundred tickets still available. Of course, given the Rays' well-documented attendance issues at Tropicana Field and their success when playing in front of big home crowds, Sternberg was asked if he wished Tampa Bay could sell out on a more regular basis.
"I think if it was like that, I wouldn't have to think about the stadium thing. I wouldn't have to talk about it," Sternberg said. "I wouldn't have to spend time, money and energy dealing with it. That's the most important part."
Lobaton's walk-off blast an historic one for Rays
ST. PETERSBURG -- Not only did Jose Lobaton become the first Rays player to homer into the Rays Touch Tank -- and the third player overall since it was installed in 2006 -- his home run deflected off the glove of a fan wearing a No. 29 Dan Johnson jersey.
Of course, Johnson is well remembered in Rays lore for the big home run he hit against the Red Sox at Fenway Park in 2008 and for the game-tying home run he hit in Game 162 of the 2011 season.
Lobaton's home run was the 46th walk-off home run in postseason history and first for the Rays. Before Lobaton, only two others hit a walk-off homer to avoid being swept in a postseason series, and on both occasions, that team came back to win the series.
Boston's Trot Nixon turned the trick in Game 3 of the ALDS against Oakland and Boston's David Ortiz did so in Game 4 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees. In both cases, the Red Sox won out to win the series.
Lobaton smiled when asked if he'd seen the swing that produced the magic Monday night.
"Yes, like about 20 times," Lobaton said. "I just, I know I swung at the ball pretty good. So I want to put it in my mind and maybe do the same thing today. Maybe not a homer, but maybe something good."
Lobaton did not have a good Spring Training while Chris Gimenez did, but Gimenez had options and Lobaton did not. That led to the thinking that Lobaton made the team because the Rays wanted to have more depth at catcher. They could have lost Lobaton if he had been designated for assignment, but they did not have to worry about losing Gimenez, whom they were able to option to Triple-A Durham.
Rays manager Joe Maddon was reminded about Lobaton becoming the team's second catcher despite having a poor Spring Training.
"He's starting to demonstrate his skill set here that he demonstrated in the Minor Leagues," Maddon said. "As an example, hitting the ball hard. You can't hit a ball much harder than the one he did last night. That's the first one we've hit there.
"Sincerely, I'm looking down, I don't even hear the swing, but I hear the noise. I look up and I see it, and I'm like, 'That's the wrong part of the ballpark.' Then I see that it's got enough. You've seen [Johnson's] home run, you've seen [Evan Longoria's] home run. That's an unlikely moment right there."
Lobaton had two walk-off hits in the 2013 season, and both came in the same series when his parents, Tomas and Maria, were visiting the United States to see him play for the first time. Lobaton said they were not able to be at Tropicana Field on Monday night, but they did watch in Venezuela.
"They were watching the game, and in the eighth or ninth inning, they [began to show] a different game," Lobaton said. "They got the Rays and Boston game. I don't know why they changed the game for Dodgers-Braves. My mom started trying to find our game again and they got it in time to see the walk-off."
Maddon still in awe over Game 3 victory
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays manager Joe Maddon was still shaking his head and smiling on Tuesday about Monday night's 5-4 win over the Red Sox in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.
The Rays fell behind, 3-0, then tied the game on Evan Longoria's three-run homer. After the Rays took a 4-3 lead, the Red Sox tied the game in the ninth when Fernando Rodney blew the save. That ultimately led to Jose Lobaton's walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth against accomplished Boston closer Koji Uehara.
When asked about what was most memorable, Maddon again smiled.
"The fact that Longo put us right," Maddon said. "For him to do it again, that's incredible. Beyond that. This is nothing against Lobaton, but their guy is so good that I didn't even have that in my imagination bank right there. That was not going to happen. I'm already thinking about next inning. Fernando's got to go back out there and pitch. Second inning of work, I don't like that. ... I was already there. I think Longo reaffirming who he is here and then Lobaton doing what he did, that doesn't happen every day."
Moore, Archer available in bullpen for Game 4
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays manager Joe Maddon said Monday that Game 4 starter Jeremy Hellickson would be on a short leash considering his struggles this season and the must-win nature of the game. The good news for Maddon is he'll have a few extra arms at his disposal.
Left-hander Matt Moore, who started Game 1, will be available out of the bullpen Tuesday night against the Red Sox. Right-hander Chris Archer could also be used to pitch in relief, as he's only thrown 1 1/3 innings this series. In addition, Maddon felt his regular relievers are well-rested enough to be called upon Tuesday night.
"I think it's fine," Maddon said. "I think their work level to this point has not been severe. All these guys have been relatively good. Some of these guys, quite frankly, do better work when they pitch more often. Some of them, they're high-quality guys. For me, when a relief pitcher struggles, it's more emotional than physical. When a relief pitcher comes in the game, there's a lot of emotion going on, and they have to cope with that constantly. I think for the most part, our guys are in pretty good shape physically and emotionally right now."
Ideally, however, Maddon wouldn't have to use Moore or Archer. He said he wouldn't throw either starter into the middle of an inning, and he's continued to express his belief that Hellickson will pitch well. In addition, Maddon would prefer to have his experienced relievers pitch like they normally do. Even lefty Jake McGee, who threw 28 pitches Monday night, should be available Tuesday.
"You have additions, like Matt Moore is an addition to the bullpen tonight. You're not going to see him coming in trying to get out of a jam in an inning. It's got to be somebody else," Maddon said. "[Moore is] going to have to start an inning. If the game goes farther in the night -- hopefully not, hopefully [the Rays] do it in nine innings -- but you have more ability if the game gets longer."
• Rookie outfielder Wil Myers was back in the starting lineup Tuesday, as expected, after leaving Monday night's 5-4 win prior to the eighth inning due to cramping in both of his legs. Maddon said Myers may have been dehydrated, but he got word from head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield that Myers would be good to go Tuesday.
"It was definitely uncomfortable," Maddon said. "Dehydration can go away if you just fill the guy back up. I guess he was running on empty a little bit yesterday and he feels better today. A little Jackson Browne."
• Kelly Johnson started at designated hitter Tuesday, his first start of the postseason. Maddon said Johnson "actually reads better, we think," against Red Sox starter Jake Peavy "for the beginning of the game." Maddon noted that Matt Joyce's struggles played into the decision, and he didn't think Peavy was a good matchup for Delmon Young.
Johnson has had one at-bat this postseason, and it ended with a triple off the Green Monster. He admitted it's been tough to not play but said he was "hopeful" he'd get a start at some point. And he actually found out from executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman before bench coach Dave Martinez told him he would be in the seventh spot in the order.
"We were talking, and then kind of at the end of it, he was like, 'All right, go have a good game,' before I knew," Johnson said. "So then I saw Davey one second after that, and he said, 'Hey, man, you're in there.' So it's kind of funny, I guess I found out from Friedman, in a way. He leaked it."
• First baseman James Loney went 3-for-3 on Monday night, raising his career postseason average to .373 (28-for-75) entering Tuesday. That ranks second all time in Major League postseason history for players with a minimum of 75 plate appearances, as only Lou Brock (.391) has posted a higher average.
• Game 3 drew a 16.7 TV rating in the Tampa Bay region, with 395,000 homes tuned in. At its peak, 10:15 p.m. ET ratings reached 21.6 with a 31.7 percent share of the market. For comparison: Game 3's ratings doubled those of Monday Night Football on ESPN and equaled the combined prime average ratings for NBC, CBS and ABC.