LAKE BUENA VISTA — Eric Hinske has had some memorable moments in his six-year career.
An AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2002. A World Series ring last year with Boston.
But when the 30-year-old joined the Rays this spring as a nonroster invitee, all he asked for was a chance.
He's making the most of it.
Hinske came a single short of the cycle Tuesday in leading the Rays to a 6-4 win over the Blue Jays in front of 8,269 in Champion Stadium at Disney's Wide World of Sports.
"I would have liked to hit for the cycle, but I'll take three hits and a win any day of the week," Hinske said.
The lively crowd, including many youngsters lining the leftfield berm, was a welcome sight for the Rays (9-11), who hope to increase their visibility in the region. Tuesday was the start of a second three-game series in as many seasons at their home-away-from-home.
"I think the fans are really into it; I'd like to see a few more show up," manager Joe Maddon said. "We had a couple green seats out there. Let's put some fannies in those seats, that'd be kind of nice."
Though the attendance was the lowest of the four games, the result was the same: a Rays win, which offered more bright spots than a bustling berm.
There was catcher Dioner Navarro, activated after a stint on the disabled list (finger cuts), coming through with three singles and two RBIs while throwing out an attempted basestealer.
There was starter James Shields (2-1) gutting out seven innings after struggling early for his first win since opening day. "When you don't have your best stuff, you have to pitch with your guts and your instincts," he said.
But Hinske stole the show against his former team, making up for a defensive miscue in the second. After Shields walked Lyle Overbay and Shannon Stewart to start the inning, catcher Gregg Zaun hit a grounder to Hinske, filling in for Carlos Pena (right hamstring tightness).
Hinske muffed the grounder, then threw wide of Shields covering first. On the next play, Hinske made a diving stop on an RBI fielder's choice by Marco Scutaro. But the earlier mistake still stung.
"He's a real pro; he was upset about it," Maddon said. "Then he came back and vindicated himself. It's a tribute to his professionalism, the fact he didn't cave."
Hinske helped the Rays bounce back with two runs in the bottom half. Evan Longoria's second homer of the season started it off. After Hinske doubled, Navarro knocked him in with a single.
Hinske had an RBI triple in a three-run fourth, then led off the sixth with his fifth homer. When he stepped to the plate in the eighth, Hinske had the cycle on his mind, having not completed the feat since Class A ball: "I went 4-for-6 in 11 innings." But lefty reliever Scott Downs struck him out swinging.
"I wouldn't trade last year for anything," Hinske said. "(But) I'm grateful to be here with the Rays. They've given me a chance over here. I just hope not to disappoint."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.