ST. PETERSBURG — For a rookie, catcher Robinson Chirinos sure acted like he had been there before when he delivered his first big-league walkoff hit Thursday, a two-out bases-loaded single in the 12th that lifted the Rays to a 7-6 victory over the Blue Jays.
Chirinos, 27, who tied the score with a two-out pinch-hit single in the previous inning, tossed his helmet in the air after rounding first base, preparing to be in the middle of a celebratory mob.
"It's great when you win and see those smiles and everybody," Chirinos said, with a smile of his own. "That's where you want to be."
In a wild and entertaining victory in front of a camp-day crowd of 29,941 at Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay (58-52) — which led by a run entering the eighth inning — overcame two extra-inning deficits for the first time in club history thanks to scoring in three separate extra innings.
"It was a crazy game," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "To grasp victory from the jaws of defeat right there was kind of neat."
Fittingly, on kids day at the Trop, it was the Rays' rookies who stole the show, from leftfielder Desmond Jennings keeping them alive with a tying solo homer in the 10th to reliever Brandon Gomes picking up his first win. And, of course, there was Chirinos, who became the first rookie to have a tying and a winning hit in extra innings since the Braves' Nick Green on July 2, 2004.
"These guys are definitely showing us that they want to be big-leaguers, that they belong," Rays veteran Johnny Damon said, "and that they can help this team win right now."
Right-hander Wade Davis gave the Rays a chance, once again overcoming a rocky first inning before settling in, allowing three runs over 7⅔ innings. His big mistake was his 108th and final pitch, a hanging breaking ball with two outs in the eighth that Jose Bautista hit into the stands for his majors-high 33rd homer that tied the score at 3. Evan Longoria had put the Rays on top with a three-run homer in the fifth.
The score stayed tied until the 10th, when recently acquired Jays outfielder Colby Rasmus ripped an elevated Jake McGee fastball for a run-scoring double.
"Right pitch," McGee said, "bad location."
The Rays battled back with Jennings continuing his sparkling play by leading off the bottom half with a solo homer to left, his third of the season and one of his three hits in the game. It was the first extra-inning homer by a Rays rookie since Longoria on May 19, 2008, and gave Jennings multiple hits in seven of his 12 games.
"We're seeing Desmond grow up right before our eyes," Damon said.
But the fight was far from over as Jays catcher Jose Molina hit a two-run triple in the top of the 11th — the third triple of his 12-year big-league career — to put Toronto up 6-4.
B.J. Upton, whose leadoff double sparked the two-run 11th, sliced another extra-base hit in the 12th, a one-out triple. Former Rays reliever Shawn Camp loaded the bases with two intentional walks but struck out Elliot Johnson, leaving it up to Chirinos.
Chirinos, who has felt his confidence grow since his first homer Wednesday, drew a 2-and-1 count and knew Camp "was the one in trouble — he had to throw strikes."
And when Camp left a fastball over the middle, Chirinos smacked it into the hole at short, pumping his fist as he jogged to first.
Said Chirinos: "A great feeling."