ST. PETERSBURG — Catcher Jose Lobaton's week had already been unique for nostalgic reasons: His parents, Tomas and Maria, were in town from Venezuela to watch him play for the first time in the United States.
When they saw Lobaton go 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in Tuesday's loss to Seattle, the 28-year-old got a little nervous.
"I'm like, 'Oh, please, I've got to do something better,' " Lobaton said.
Friday, Lobaton did something unforgettable and unexpected, coming through with a walkoff triple in the ninth inning to lift the Rays to a 5-4 victory over the Blue Jays in front of 15,433 at Tropicana Field.
Lobaton's first career walkoff hit and Tampa Bay's second walkoff win in three days brought the Rays (69-51) to within one game of the first-place Red Sox in the American League East.
"That's the best feeling I've ever had in my life in baseball," Lobaton said. "I wasn't expecting that. Thank God that actually happened."
Lobaton, who went 3-for-4 and also had a run-saving block in the top of the ninth, received several celebratory treats after getting mobbed at third base: Shortstop Yunel Escobar dumped the Gatorade bucket on him, reliever Joel Peralta gave him a whipped-cream pie in the face, and outfielder Matt Joyce served him an ice cream cup and ice cream sandwich.
"I figured a triple, man, he needs something," Joyce said.
But Lobaton's favorite moment was the photo he took with his beaming father just before heading inside for another clubhouse party.
"I saw my dad's face; he was pretty happy," Lobaton said. "That's kind of like what he wanted to see."
The Rays got the solid start they had hoped for from right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, who had failed to last five innings in his previous three outings. He was much better Friday, going six innings and allowing just three runs while giving up nine hits.
Said Hellickson of his teammates, "It's amazing what these guys can do when you keep them within striking distance."
Manager Joe Maddon lauded the Rays' perseverance in rallying from two runs down at 3-1 in the sixth against Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who had been tough on them at the Trop, where he threw a one-hitter last season with the Mets and a two-hitter June 26. From Joyce's solo homer in the sixth, which snapped a 43-game homerless drought, to a two-run seventh, capped by Sam Fuld's two-out, go-ahead, opposite-field single, the Rays took a one-run lead into the eighth at 4-3.
"I really believe our players felt we were going to win that game," Maddon said. "There's no quit."
Not even after setup man Peralta gave the lead back in the eighth as the Jays tied it at 4.
Before Lobaton's hit, he may have saved the day in the top of the ninth. He blocked a Fernando Rodney changeup in the dirt with the go-ahead run at third base. Maddon called that one of the biggest plays of the game.
"I was telling (Escobar) after the inning, I didn't know how I caught that ball," Lobaton said. "I said, 'I think I can do something better in hitting.' "
That Lobaton did, hitting an outside fastball by lefty Aaron Loup into the rightfield corner, scoring Escobar from first. His teammates were shocked at the most unlikely of their nine walkoff hits this season. It was the third walkoff triple by a big-league catcher since 1994.
"I never would have guessed that one," Joyce said.