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Rays Tales: Walking (off) on the wild side

The Rays have had 97 walkoff wins in their 14 seasons of play, including three on the last homestand, featuring what might have been the wildest one of all, what with Super Sam Fuld racing around the bases, scoring on a triple and an error then lying at home plate waiting for the pileup. "As exciting a play as you'll ever get to see, and on a walkoff," Elliot Johnson said. Here's a look at what they've done and a glimpse of what it's like.

25-man pileup

Being the center of attention in a walkoff celebration has got to be a good thing, right? Unless you're Sam Fuld — not quite 5 feet 9, barely 170 pounds — and you are lying on the ground as most of your 25 all-larger teammates pile on.

"It felt like 100," Fuld said. "I'm just glad I just made it out of there."

Fuld put himself in a bad position from the start, too exhausted from his 360-foot dash to get up, and it quickly got worse. His first concern was that he'd get stuck with large wads of gum, as teammates left in Casey Kotchman's path during Monday's celebration. Then, as he felt his belt being undone by B.J. Upton, that he was going to be stripped down. But as the pile grew, and teammates delivered "love taps," the issue became not being crushed.

"What I remember going through my head," Fuld said, "was that these things are dangerous — make sure you can breathe. I was lifting my head up, trying to create a little bubble around me so I wasn't completely smothered."

Elliot Johnson, who had scored the tying run, was on top of Fuld, with Kelly Shoppach on top of him, and tried to help. "(Fuld) started making noises like this is a bit heavy," Johnson said. "He was having trouble breathing, so I tried to get off him as best I could."

Celebratory belt?

So why did B.J. Upton remove Sam Fuld's belt?

Because it was there.

That drill apparently has become part of the Rays' walkoff celebration, as rookie C Robinson Chirinos was nearly de-pantsed when mobbed after his Aug. 4 walkoff hit.

"Kelly (Shoppach) did it to me after my walkoff (May 3)," Upton said, "and everybody's kind of been doing it ever since."

Shoppach said only that it started when he was with the Indians and that Jason Michaels, a Tampa native, started it. As to where it could lead? "You never know what could happen in those dogpiles," Shoppach said.

Fuld said his father, a college dean, asked him what it was all about.

"I told him, we do stupid things in baseball," Fuld said. "I've got no explanation for it other than you run out of things to do when you dogpile. I knew they were going to try to strip me down as much as possible. I think that's the idea, you get the belt off and the next step is the pants, really embarrass the guy."

So actually, the belt was only a consolation prize. "I couldn't get anything else," Upton said. "But in the right situation … "

The old college try

Usually a walkoff celebration is a bouncing mob of players circled around the player who got the hit. But with Sam Fuld prone on the ground, the players instead jumped on him in a dogpile, not often seen on a big-league field.

"It almost ended like it was a playoff game or a series clincher the way we dogpiled," Kelly Shoppach said. "It was like College World Series stuff. That was pretty awesome."

Walkoff breakdown

The Rays have walked off in some creative ways: Inside-the-park home run (Rey Sanchez, June 2004), bunt (Jason Bartlett, May 2010), wild pitch (Matt Joyce scoring, April 2011), hit batter (John Flaherty, August 1999), bases-loaded walk (three times), error, sac fly, fielder's choice, even once on an obstruction call (for the shortstop blocking Carl Crawford's view, August 2004).

A breakdown:

35 Home runs (Crawford, Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton 3; Flaherty 2)

35 Singles

9 Doubles

1 Triple

5 Errors

3Bases-loaded walks, fielder's choice, sac flies

1 Hit batter

1 Bunt

1 Wild pitch

Most walkoffs (as the batter)

6 Carl Crawford

4 John Flaherty, Travis Lee, Evan Longoria, Fred McGriff, B.J. Upton

3 Willy Aybar, Miguel Cairo, Gabe Gross, Dioner Navarro, Carlos Peña

Historical perspective

Rallying from a 7-3 deficit in the ninth and winning the way they did made Wednesday even more noteworthy:

• The first time in their 1,109 home games the Rays trailed by four or more in the ninth or later and won. (They also did so at Boston on July 23, 2002.)

• The first game in the majors to end on a triple and an error since June 28, 2004, when Pittsburgh's Jack Wilson did it to St. Louis. And the first in the AL since May 8, 1959, when Detroit's Frank Bolling did it to Kansas City.

• It was the first walkoff triple in the majors since the Rays saw Ramon Santiago do it to them in Detroit on June 13, and that was the first since Rajai Davis' in August 2009.

• Since 2000, according to Elias, only 1.1 percent of teams trailing by four as they came to bat in the ninth won the game.

Rays rumblings

There hasn't been great demand for OF/DH Johnny Damon, who has cleared waivers, but some NL teams have expressed interest. … Andy Freed, Dewayne Staats and Dave Wills all contributed to the new book about baseball broadcasting, A Talk in the Park, by Curt Smith. … Another sign how the Legend has grown: ESPN's Buster Olney wrote that Indians rookie Jason Kipnis "is becoming a Sam Fuld-like hero." … Seriously, the cop from the Village People suing the Rays for using his image?

Got a minute? | Kelly Shoppach

Must-see TV?

Survivor, it's still my favorite after all this time.

Band or singer you'd like to be on stage with?

I don't want to sing. Pat Green, he's a Texas guy.

Worst job?

Lobster farmer. When I played in the Cape (Cod League), I worked at a lobster farm — for one day. It was pretty miserable.

Ideal vacation spot?

I'd like to go to South Africa and do a safari and shark-diving.

Person you'd most like to have dinner with?

Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys owner).

Rays Tales: Walking (off) on the wild side 08/13/11 [Last modified: Saturday, August 13, 2011 9:45pm]
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