ARLINGTON, Texas — Pete Fairbanks certainly had plenty of motivation Tuesday night to get the final three outs, seal the Rays’ 5-3, 11-inning win over the Rangers and earn his first career save.
It was the first high-leverage chance he’d gotten with his new Rays team since being acquired in July.
It was coming against his former Rangers team, in the stadium he called home after making his June big-league debut.
It was going to include him facing scrappy infielder Nick Solak, the player the Rays gave up to acquire him.
But it was what he heard from the stands, first some choice remarks from fans while he was warming up in the bullpen, then more directly when he gave up a first-pitch single to start the 11th and missed badly on his his first pitch to the next batter.
"To be able to come back and have that experience and be able to contribute against your old team with the idiots in the stands chirping ‘That’s why we traded you,’ just to kind of get that little bit, that chip on your shoulder, that adds that little bit,'' he said. "I’m not going to say that that never plays a factor. Especially with any athlete, they can say that it doesn’t but there’s always a little bit of that extra fire when you’re playing your old team.''
After giving up the single to Elvis Andrus, Fairbanks got Willie Calhoun to ground into a double play.
That brought him face to face with Solak, who has impressed since making his late August debut in the majors. Fairbanks got to 1-1 and threw a 99 mph fastball in on Solak, who grounded it to third for what looked to be the final out, but he hustled down the line and was called safe. The Rays challenged the call and, for reasons that still don’t seem clear, it was ruled to stand.
"I wanted to strike him out,'' Fairbanks said. "I don’t know how he hit that ball. For anyone that’s a competitor, obviously it is a business and he fills a need I didn’t fill. ... From a personal level, put that in the back of your mind and try to get him out, for sure.''
Instead, Fairbanks had to get what essentially was a fourth out, retiring Danny Santana on a ground out, and got the satisfaction on several fronts, noting, "You know how fans are.''
He said the adrenaline carried him after he got the final out, and it probably wasn’t until he was back in the clubhouse that it sunk it what he’d done, and that he had the ball as a memento.
Manager Kevin Cash took a bit of a gamble in using Fairbanks, as he could have sent Emilio Pagan out for a second inning, or opted for Diego Castillo or Andrew Kittredge.
"That’s not an easy thing facing your former team,'' Cash said, “but we need that guy to be good. Hopefully that gets him going in the right direction where we’re showing confidence, go out there and have confidence in yourself to get some big outs for the next three weeks.”