Tampa Bay Rays' Unlikely Heroes: Who Are Jose Lobaton and Dan Johnson?

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Tampa Bay Rays' Unlikely Heroes: Who Are Jose Lobaton and Dan Johnson?
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

When the Tampa Bay Rays' backup catcher Jose Lobaton hit his walk-off home run off of Red Sox closer Koji Uehara in the bottom of the ninth to extend the playoff series with the Red Sox to Game 4, perhaps no fan was happier than the one in the center field stands for whom the ball was heading.

Unfortunately for the fan, the home run ball bounced off his gloveyes, he was wearing a gloveand into the devil ray tank to his right (see video below).

Lobaton's walk-off home run from Monday. At 0:10, the fan misses the ball. He had a glove so there's no excuse. At 1:33, a priceless reaction between head coach Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey as they share a smile of satisfaction and self-congratulations.

Two historical connections were made in the process of this play.

First, it made Lobaton's home run the first home run by a Ray to actually splash down in the tank (Miguel Cabrera and Luis Gonzalez had already done so, but as visiting players). Second, and perhaps much less obvious, was the jersey worn by the fan. He was wearing a Rays' jersey with No. 29 and "Johnson" across its back.

If you know your Rays history, this jersey belonged to Dan Johnson, aka "the Great Pumpkin," but for only a portion of the 2011 season (he changed to No. 24). A lifetime .236 hitter, Johnson played for the Rays in 2008, 2010 and 2011. During his years with the Rays he accumulated just 259 plate appearances during the regular season.

But in the last game of the 2011 season against the Yankees, Johnson hit a game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth inning.

Johnson's game-tying home run in 2011. At 0:37, we see Hickey had the same smile two years ago as he congratulates Johnson in the dugout. At 0:47, we can see that Johnson had already changed his number from 29 to 24 by this time.

The Rays would go on to win the game.

Because they won and the Red Soxwith whom they were tied for the wild-card spot before the gamelost, the Rays consequently made the playoffs.

Now back to 2013.

When Maddon made the double switch in the ninth inning to replace starting catcher Jose Molina with Lobaton, it is unlikely that he was thinking of Johnson's 2011 homer, but the fan in center field elicited the connection for me.

Am I scraping the bottom of the barrel? Reaching a little far? Making something out of nothing?

Maybe, maybe not. 

I just find it very coolon both the sports and sheer happenstance levelsthat the home run was hit to a fan wearing a Dan Johnson jersey.

Dan Johnson?

Dan Johnson. 

After all, who in their right mind would go purchase a Dan Johnson jersey? We see a more likely Johnson jersey choice with the appearance of Elliot Johnson at 1:32 of the above video. Eliot played in 200 games as a Ray to Dan's miserly 81...

But no, it was Dan Johnson. Maybe it's what the announcer in the above video said at 0:39: "Dan Johnson may be a Ray for life!" That kind of cult following can happen to a guy who comes up big (even if he is pretty useless most of the time).

The coincidence was just too amazing for me to ignore; like a passing of the torch from one unlikely big home run to another. Too bad the fan couldn't catch.

Unfortunately for Lobaton and the Raysand I'm sure for the fan, but probably not Dan Johnsonthe Rays are not going further in the playoffs this time. The incident does, however, illustrate a great characteristic of playoff baseball: that some unlikely player might step up and completely change the game at any time.

Throwback time, anyone?

Kirk Gibson's home run prompting Jack Buck's "I don't believe what I just saw!" from Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

 

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