ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- If you didn't know better, you might be tempted to believe Joe Maddon thought Dean Anna really was a pitcher.
After all, the last time Maddon saw him, Anna was inducing David DeJesus to pop up a 55-mph nothingball to end the eighth inning of Saturday night's 16-1 Tampa Bay Rays blowout of the New York Yankees.
So now, here was the same guy, all 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds of him, in the on-deck circle as Jacoby Ellsbury stepped into the batter's box with runners at first and third and two outs in the top of the 12th inning of a 1-1 game.
Let's see, now: Ellsbury -- two-time World Champion, career .300 hitter, All-Star and MVP candidate; Anna -- junkballing mop-up man.
Not surprisingly, Maddon chose to walk Ellsbury to load the bases and take his chances with Anna, even though his pitcher, C.J. Riefenhauser, had only made his big-league debut a day earlier.
The choice, while perfectly sound, raised the hackles on Anna's unimposing back.
"Absolutely," Anna said. "You got a little chip on your shoulder, you know? They’re walking the guy to get to you, and you gotta do something. That’s the mentality you have to have, I think, going up there."
And that was the mentality Anna kept throughout an intense eight-pitch at-bat, in which he fell behind 1-2, fought off a couple of two-strike sliders to work the count full, and then was able to check his swing on one more tantalizing slider that became ball four and forced in the go-ahead run that the Yankees needed so badly.
That run opened the floodgates, relatively speaking, because after that bases-loaded walk, Carlos Beltran delivered a two-run single and Alfonso Soriano dropped a parachute into short right for the final run of what became a 5-1 Yankees victory.
The game took 4 hours, 23 minutes to play, and without that Dean Anna at-bat, the Yankees and the Rays might still be playing. That's how hard runs were to come by on this day, and why Anna's walk seemed to have the same emotional effect on his team as a grand-slam homer.
“That's a huge at-bat," Yankees managerJoe Girardi said. "Tough situation. A rookie kid that hasn’t had a lot of at-bats, probably never seen the pitcher before, but that's the one thing that we noticed in spring training, he gave you good at-bats. I didn’t think he had a bad swing in the whole at-bat."
The win not only eased some of the pressure that would have come down on the Yankees had they lost this one, but after having blown a four-run lead Friday night and losing 11-5, followed by Saturday's humiliating 16-1 blowout, it also eased the criticism that would have rained down upon Girardi for removing Derek Jeter for pinch-runner Ichiro Suzuki an inning earlier, after Jeter had led off the 11th with a single.
Girardi did it, he said, because he thought Ichiro had a better chance of stealing a base, but Ichiro got thrown out trying to steal, and of course, Anna was now hitting in Jeter's slot in the batting order.
"That's a tough decision to make, but I'm going for it right there," Girardi said of his decision to pull Jeter from the game. "It’s a little risky play to run there, but I’m doing everything I can to score a run there. I put in a guy that I thought had a chance to steal a base and he was darn close.”
As close, it seemed, as Anna's final non-swing at Riefenhauser's slider that was clearly out of the strike zone. Anna offered at it but home-plate umpire Clint Fagan ruled he hadn't gone around, and Anna, not at all the shy type, wasn't shy about agreeing with the call.
"Oh, I was 100 percent positive," he said. "I even started walking a little bit before he made the call. I knew there was no way he was going to call me out on that."
Anna, who signed with the Yankees as a free agent this winter after somehow being overlooked for six seasons in the San Diego Padres organization despite leading the Pacific Coast League in hitting (.331) last year, said he was not intimidated in the least by the situation, in spite of not knowing he was facing a rookie pitcher.
"I was having fun. It was a fun at-bat," he said. "Baseball’s all about moments, and that was a moment, right there. A fun moment."
And a decisive moment. And a moment, it is safe to assume, that neither the Yankees nor Joe Maddon are going to forget anytime soon.