Saturday, February 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Bourgeois an inspiring hero for Rays

ST. PETERSBURG

One question: When it came to breaking the most miserable losing streak of the Rays' season, who had Jason Bourgeois in the pool?

Bourgeois?

Really?

For goodness' sake, Bourgeois just got here. There is still Durham dirt in his cleats. Evidently, there is still something in his bat, too.

Some players are born underdogs. Bourgeois is one of them. Over the past 14 years, he has spent 1,287 games in the minors, 225 in the majors. So, yeah, he was a long shot to be here, and he is a longer shot to stay around for very long. But Wednesday night, Bourgeois grabbed one of those moments that makes players stick around the game, hoping for one more taste, one more memory.

It was the bottom of the ninth against the Mariners, and the Rays had loaded the bases. That wasn't that rare. It was getting the runner home that had become a hardship for the Rays. Their hitters were 13 for the previous 64 with men in scoring position.

Then it was Bourgeois walking to the plate with the score tied at 4.

"Get something to drive," he would later say about his approach. "We had no outs, bases loaded. That's like a hitter's dream to be in that situation with the game on the line. I couldn't ask for a better one."

Still, you have to remember Bourgeois was only in the game because he had pinch-run for James Loney in the eighth inning. At the time, no one was thinking about Bourgeois with a bat in his hand. It was an afterthought move for an afterthought of a player.

That's the thing about baseball, though. Sometimes the moment will find a guy.

Bourgeois took a strike to start his at-bat. Then, on the second pitch, he sent the ball high and deep over the rightfielder's head. He took four strides, then let go of his bat. He passed first base, then turned and covered his head with both hands as his teammates rushed toward him to celebrate.

Finally, victory.

He is 31, and there are times you wonder why he has hung on. He had a good year for Houston in 2011, hitting .294 in 252 at-bats. But last year he had 16 hits for the Royals. He signed a minor-league contract with the Rays in the offseason, waiting, hoping, for a moment when he would matter.

That moment came Wednesday night, and frankly, it felt huge juxtaposed against the losing streak that had preceded it. The Rays had struggled for six games, losing when they scored eight, losing when they scored none. The starting pitchers' ERA had soared to 6.93.

For a while there, you could chuckle when people suggested Ben Grieve was starting in rightfield or Vinny Castilla was playing third that night. It was beginning to feel like those woebegone teams of yesteryear. Oh, everyone knew this team was better than it was playing — didn't July prove that? — but the thought of a team that someone had kicked the power plug out on was too painful to mention.

Bourgeois?

Really?

Now, if you had expected a hero out of Wednesday, you might have expected David Price. After all, Price has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since coming off the disabled list. In July he was 5-1 with a 1.68 ERA, and he pitched, as manager Joe Maddon said, like a man who had had baseball taken away from him and then returned.

Surely, you thought, Price was going to be John Wayne. He was going to throw darts into the eyes of hummingbirds, and he was going to juice the clubhouse, and it was going to fire up Alex Cobb for his return tonight, and order was going to be restored.

Maybe it was going to be Evan Longoria (who did hit a ninth-inning double) or Wil Myers (who hit a two-run homer).

Instead, it was Bourgeois.

Really?

This year Bourgeois was hitting .291 at Durham. Not bad, but not exactly the stuff of confetti. No one talked about Bourgeois the way they talked about Myers. For that matter, who knows how long Bourgeois will even be with the Rays. They have two roster moves to make to get Cobb and Desmond Jennings back on the roster. Does this change things?

"That's an outstanding moment for Jason," Maddon said. "He's a great guy, a guy that worked very hard to get to the big leagues in the first place, and he's always working hard to stay there. It's really nice to see that moment for him."

No one talked about Bourgeois as an up-and-comer. It is fair to say the expectations were low.

One at-bat and everything changes. Suddenly, the world is shiny and new, and Bourgeois has earned himself another at-bat or two. Yes, some players will have to be sent down in the coming days to make room for Cobb or Jennings. But after this, how can you say no to this guy?

Bourgeois?

Yes, really.

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