ST. PETERSBURG — Chris Gimenez?
It was late, and the score was tied, and it was no time for the supporting cast. This was a headliner's moment, one of those high-pressured September games where one star or another was going to make himself a memory. Derek Jeter, maybe. Evan Longoria, perhaps.
Gimenez left the dugout, and even he wasn't certain he was going to make it all the way to the plate to face reliever David Robertson. He looked to bench coach Davey Martinez, wondering if a left-handed pinch-hitter might take his turn.
"Am I good?" Gimenez asked.
"Yeah," said Martinez. "You're good."
Gimenez, a .178 hitter who was 72 hours out of the minor leagues, continued his walk to the plate. He took a deep breath. He reminded himself to take a pitch just to look at Robertson's delivery.
"Well, this is the biggest at-bat of your life," he told himself. "Let's see what you do with it."
Let's. Five pitches later, Gimenez hit a cutter off the end of his bat, and the ball was squirting through the infield. It bounced and squibbed and played dodgeball as Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano and first baseman Nick Swisher both broke for it. The ball kept bounding, sneaking into the outfield for a hit, and the go-ahead run was racing to the plate, and the Rays were on their way to winning a game that suggested this may be a playoff race after all.
This is the beauty of baseball. It saves some of its biggest moments for some of its littlest guys. As a sport, it can be cruel. It can beat a player up, and it can frustrate him, and it can spend a decade trying to chase him away. And then it can give him a minute that will last forever.
This time, it rewarded Gimenez, 29, with a Dan Johnson moment. In one swing of the bat, he validated all of his work, and all of his faith, and all of the doubt that a guy can pick up in spending parts of nine seasons — including most of this one — in the minors.
"It wasn't the prettiest hit ever," Gimenez said, grinning, "but I'll take it."
The ball, through Gimenez's eyes, took "about a thousand" bounces. The run to first "was the longest 90 feet I've ever run."
Still, the ball could not have been placed more perfectly. If Cano was closer, perhaps he would have come up with it. If he was further away, perhaps he could have left his feet and knocked the ball down to prevent the run from scoring.
"I was running, and I was praying, and I was watching Robbie and I was watching Swish," Gimenez said. "When it got to the outfield, I knew (Ryan Roberts) was going to score. I thought, thank God for that. For my sake, for the team's sake, for everyone's sake."
Who saw this coming? The last Rays' fans saw of Giminez, he was leaving town at the end of May with a .191 average on the season. At the time, would anyone have dreamed that Gimenez had this kind of hit in his future?
"Honestly? Yes," Gimenez said. "I knew that I had to go down and figure some stuff out. But I kept believing if I kept myself going in the right direction, I had a chance. At the plate, I've never really done anything. That's a bad portrayal of who I am offensively. I've always felt I could be a decent ballplayer if I just did things the right way."
If you are among the thousand minor-leaguers who tell themselves similar things on a daily basis, perhaps you can understand the joy that Gimenez felt. He stood at first base, beaming, looking at his teammates yell his name. This is why you stick around. This is why you keep showing up to the ballfield.
"Hopefully, there will be a lot more moments and a lot more RBI," Gimenez said.
Ah, but if not? If this turns out to be Gimenez' greatest day in baseball, well, it was one more than was promised. And, yeah, he'll tell his grandkids about it.
"By then, it will be a missile," he said. "It will have torn the glove off of the infielder."
He laughed. On Chris Gimenez Day, on the day he felled the Yankees, on the day he changed the standings, who could blame him?