Friday, September 30, 2011
Unsung hero: Ben Zobrist comes up big
By Jeff Caplan
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Matt Moore and Kelly Shoppach will get the hero's treatment, and rightfully so in the Tampa Bay Rays' 9-0 victory in Game 1 of the ALDS. But, don't overlook the contributions of second baseman and cleanup hitter Ben Zobrist.
He played a key role in Tampa's three-run second and three-run third innings. In the second, he led off and took a 92-mph C.J. Wilson cutter off his right arm and trotted to first in obvious pain. Wilson then got behind Johnny Damon, 3-1, before the 37-year-old designated hitter jerked Wilson's fifth pitch a row or two into the right-field bleachers for a quick 2-0 lead.
In the third, Zobrist caught the Rangers by surprise. Zobrist, with 20 home runs on the season, took advantage of third baseman Adrian Beltre playing deep and laid a perfect bunt down the line that put runners at first and second with no outs.
"That's something he does," Rangers catcher Mike Napoli said, shrugging his shoulders. "He got a bunt down and got a hit."
It also set up Shoppach's second home run of the game, a three-run shot to left that broke the game wide open, 6-0, in the third inning.
"That's definitely his call, but I don't think there's too many cleanup hitters in the league that do drop that bunt," Damon said. "We have a very athletic team that can run, that can bunt. That's the kind of stuff that we need. We are a small-ball team with the occasional pop. It came at a good time."