ST. PETERSBURG — Amid the remnants of the messy marathon game in which the Rays fell behind early, led somewhat comfortably, went to extra innings and then trailed again before eventually winning 9-8 in 10 innings Tuesday was a poignant moment that seemed to mean so much more.
Chloe Grimes, a St. Petersburg girl battling cancer for the second time in her 8-3/4 years, and her mother, Jacquie, were being interviewed on the Bally Sports Sun television broadcast during the third inning.
Chole had just told Tricia Whitaker that her favorite player on the Rays was Brett Phillips, noting, “he has the best smile,” is always having fun and does his airplane runs.
The day already had been special for Grimes, the Rays’ Tuesday’s Champion guest from the Children’s Dream Fund.
She got to meet Phillips before the game, as she threw out the first pitch to him — and, being a softball player, quite well — and then had him sign her Rays jersey with “WARRIOR” on the back.
Chloe gave Phillips a softball with his name on it, a photo of her she personalized and a hand-written note on how much it meant to her that he caught her first pitch, as well as a blue-green rubber bracelet that read, “Rally For Chloe Our Princess Warrior.”
A couple of hours later, Phillips — wearing the bracelet — delivered a remarkably unforgettable moment, launching a towering home run.
“I told her she gave me her power, and she sure did,” Phillips said after the game. “I told her that I would try to do something special for her. It’s just crazy.”
As Phillips’ drive soared over the fence, Whitaker said, “Chloe, do you know what just happened?”
With just a tad of prompting, she answered, “Brett Phillips just hit a home run,” then mimicked his airplane move with her arms out.
“She was blown away,” her mother said. “We all were blown away. The hair on my arms stood up. That was just amazing.”
There were other coincidences that make you go, Hmm. Phillips hit the ball into the C-ring catwalk — as in C for Chloe — where it stayed. (”We should go get it and get it to Chloe,” manager Kevin Cash said.) Also, the Grimeses came down from the Rays’ Club to sit in the stands with Chloe’s Fossil Park softball teammates who were in section 122; she was wearing a jersey with her No. 22.
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“Crazy that Tricia was interviewing her while I hit probably the furthest homer (404 feet) of my career, hardest ball (107.8 mph) I’ve ever hit,” Phillips said, tears welling. “Chloe’s such an inspiration, and I wish her all the best. I’m praying for her and her family. I can’t imagine. It puts perspective on my career and my life and how I go about things. Just continue to pour love and respect, just as she did. Going through what she’s going through, what an inspiration.”
Chloe Grimes was 2½ when she was first diagnosed — on Christmas Day 2015 — with an aggressive form of lung cancer known as Type II Pleuropulmonary Blastoma. She fought bravely, her mother said, enduring 36 rounds of chemotherapy and 25 rounds of radiation over 1½ years. She was declared cancer-free, and stayed that way for about five years.
On March 10, Jacquie said, they got the staggering news that Chloe had relapsed, now diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. She will have surgery May 3 at John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital to remove her thyroid in hopes the cancer can be contained.
“We’re just having as much fun in April as we can,” Jacquie said.
The Rays have played a big role in helping the Grimeses get through it, with contributions to the hospital, hosting people at games and providing hours of nighty entertainment. Jacquie said when Chloe isn’t playing softball she wants to watch the Rays.
“Sports is just so cool for moments like that,’' Phillips said. “Perspective and appreciation for what I get to do on a daily basis, show up to play Major League Baseball and do this for a living. And you have a young girl who’s 8 years old, battling cancer for a second time, and she can smile and enjoy her life? It’s crazy.’'
Tuesday’s game was certainly interesting.
The Rays fell behind 3-0 in the first inning as Tommy Romero had a rough debut and didn’t get through the second. But the Rays, who got blasted 13-2 Monday, battled back, with a solo homer by Brandon Lowe, a clutch three-run shot by Ji-Man Choi and Phillips’ memorable blast to take a 6-3 lead.
“That’s pretty awesome,” Cash said. ”Philly’s got a knack for doing some special things.”
Romero’s early exit shifted a heavy workload to the Rays’ pen, and the A’s got three runs off newcomer Ralph Garza Jr. to tie the game at 7 in seventh.
The A’s took the lead in the top of the 10th when Billy McKinney singled off Ryan Thompson to score Chad Pinder, who was the runner on second to start the inning. The Rays struck back. Wander Franco doubled off Lou Trivino to score Brandon Lowe and tie it. With two outs, the A’s intentionally walked rookie lefty Josh Lowe with a 2-0 count so Trivino could face Manuel Margot righty on righty. It turned out quite for the Rays, as Margot slashed a single to score Franco with the game-winning run.
Said Cash: “Makes a good night better.”
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