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Lightning Strikes; Ben Zobrist Grand Slams Rays To Victory

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In my limited days as a beat reporter during last years ALCS, I got a chance to know some Rays players a little better. I didn't bother too much with the stars as they were always surrounded by national reporters and TV cameras. I mostly sat in the dugout hanging out with guys like Cliff Floyd, Shawn Riggans and Gabe Gross. However, there was one player in particular that I really clicked with.

Up until the ALCS, I liked this guy, but he wasn't one of my favorites. He's an average player, who at times, maybe gets a little more playing time than he deserves. People love his scrappiness, his hustle and his grit. As I talked more and more to Ben Zobrist, I became a fan. Not just the player, but of the guy. He's just fun to be around. I know its cliché, but Zobrist is "good for the clubhouse" and all that sweet jazz. Maybe it's because he was nice enough to just sit and chat with me. Or maybe it's the fact that he told me he calls himself late "inning lightning", but I became Ben Zobrist fan.

 

There are plenty of times where I see Zobrist in the lineup and just go "ugh, Zobrist." And most of the times it's for good reason. See whether I like Ben or not, he's not one of the best nine players on this team and he should not be a semi regular player. He is what he is; a bench player. He doesn't not play any position particularly well (although he looks average at least in the outfield). He's a fringe hitter, who will probably never hit more than .240/.315/.400 over a full season, but he should never play a full season.

The magic of the utility player like Zobrist is in short doses he can be fantastic; case in point tonight. In the sixth inning I was mad, frustrated, vexed, angry, "insert adjective for pissed off" here. The Rays have looked lackluster the past few days and tonight they looked to be headed down that path again. The Rays took the early lead only to give it to the White Sox. They tied it up only to give it back and more. James Shields pitched a few innings like he was in Fenway not the Trop, and the offense was stagnant once again. However, in the 6th inning there were sounds of thunder.

After loading the bases, the White Sox lifted Bartolo Colon, who was cruising until that point. They brought in Matt Thornton, who has become a fantastic reliever over the past few seasons. With the lefty coming in and left handed batter Gabe Gross due up, Maddon made the call. Ben Zobrist was up with the bases loaded and his team down by three runs. Of course when I saw this I said "ugh, Zobrist." When he swing and missed at the first pitch, I lowered my head. After the third pitch I said Zobrist again, except it was like ############, BEN ZOBRIST JUST HIT A GRAND SLAM. It was just the second pinch hit grand slam in Rays' history and the third career slam for Benzo.

Zobrist aka Zorilla hasn't hit many home runs in his career(17), but he has some memorable ones. Erik and I often talk about the home run he hit off of A.J. Burnett after the All Star game last year that broke the seven game losing streak. Then there was another Zobrist grand slam that came against the Orioles in the game that clinched the first winning season in Rays history; and finally, tonight. When it looked like the Rays were going to go down once again Zobrist came off the bench and provided that spark.

Ladies and Gentlemen: "Late inning lightning" has struck again.