Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 4/26/12
ST. PETERSBURG -- Most pinch hitters come to the plate with a bat. Brandon Allen brought a broom. And with one dramatic swing in the bottom of the ninth, the newest member of the Tampa Bay Rays swept the Los Angeles Angels out of town Thursday afternoon. Claimed off waivers only five days earlier from the Oakland A's, Allen introduced himself in memorable fashion for the second consecutive game -- this time with a two-run homer to produce a 4-3 comeback victory and yet another wild celebration for the red-hot Rays. Talk about a fine how-do-you-do. Allen's was about as good as it gets for a new guy in town. First, a pinch-hit walk to help win a game Wednesday -- then a pinch-hit walk-off. His latter contribution kept the Rays' party going as they jetted to Texas for a three-game weekend series starting Friday night against their old nemesis, the AL West-leading Rangers. Thanks to Allen, the flight instantly became a whole lot more enjoyable, keeping the Rays flying high with five straight wins, six victories in their last seven outings and at least a share of first place in the AL East with a record of 12-7. "It was amazing," Allen said. "Everybody wants that moment and I'm thankful I got it. The guys kept us in a good situation throughout the whole game, kept it tight, so what more can you ask for?" For starters, there's the customary Rays way of showing their appreciation. Allen was mobbed by players at home plate, got a shaving-cream pie in his face during his post-game interview on the field and had to run through a gauntlet of cheering teammates as he entered the clubhouse -- the treatment pitcher David Price got when he set the stage for the series sweep Tuesday night with arguably his best starting effort ever. Allen, who said he's never had a walk-off homer before, created a collective gasp in the Trop crowd of 15,417 when he launched a 2-1 pitch high to right before it drifted foul. But Allen, known for his calm demeanor, stayed focus and didn't leave any doubt on reliever Jordan Walden's next delivery. The ball rocketed into the right-field seats in his first official at-bat with the Rays, following his bases-loaded walk in the eighth Wednesday that made the difference in a 3-2 win. "Baseball is luck," he said. "It's a lot of luck. You have to do what you can to prepare for it and thank God he prepared me for it and I just went up there and stayed calm within myself," he said. "You go up there and you feel energy after being down all game but once you see that first pitch, everything calms down and you get a pitch you can do something with." In his own way, Allen recalled the heroics of former Ray Dan Johnson, who had an uncanny knack for hitting heroic pinch-hit homers for Tampa Bay, most notably his iconic game-tying blast in Game 162. But it turns out Allen shares an even more uncanny connection with Johnson. Four years ago, the Rays claimed first-baseman Johnson off waivers from Oakland on April 18 and added to him to the roster on April 21. In his first official at-bat with the Rays, he smashed his famous pinch-hit homer on Sept. 9 to beat Boston in his first official at-bat with the beat. This season, the Rays claimed Allen off waivers from Oakland on April 19 and added him to the roster on -- you guessed it -- April 21. Same date. Same amazing pinch-hit result in a first official Tampa Bay at-bat. Allen made his first positive impression Wednesday night when he worked a good at-bat under pressure in the eighth inning and drew a bases-loaded walk, providing what proved to be the game-winner in a 3-2 decision. But that turned out only to be the warm-up act. "Two great at-bats, two days in a row," said manager Joe Maddon. "I mean that ball was well struck. That (pitch) might have been 95, 96, 97 mph. I don't have any idea how hard it was. He was calm on the bench, ready for his at-bat, saw his pitch and did not miss. It was outstanding." "For him to come in and step in in two huge at-bats, in two huge situations, and the calmness in him and confidence that he has at the plate is really remarkable," said Matt Joyce, who continued his hot streak at the plate with a double and triple, raising his batting average to .322. "It seems like he really hasn't missed a beat. Pinch-hitting is one of the hardest things to do. That speaks a lot to his preparation and his focus." The Rays seemed to lack a bit of focus Thursday on the bases, and two gaffes in particular proved costly. In the first, leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings started the game off with a single and immediately scored on a double to right by Ben Zobrist. But in an uncharacteristic lapse, Zobrist was picked off at second, pulling the plug on a possibly bigger inning. And in the bottom of the fifth, Sean Rodriguez was doubled-up when he took too wide of a turn around third, ending another potential rally. Meanwhile, rookie lefthander Matt Moore started off strong. Through the first four innings, he had his best command of the season, entering the fifth with a no-hitter and a 1-0 lead. But that came to an abrupt end when rightfielder Mark Trumbo homered to left-center tied the score. Moore wasn't the same after that and was pulled after yielding three hits in the sixth, including a go-ahead double by Trumbo. The Angels scored twice in that frame to take a 3-1 lead. It just seemed as if Tampa Bay's recent magic touch had run out on this day, even after Joyce ripped his triple to the right-center gap in the bottom of the sixth to score Luke Scott and cut the deficit to 3-2. But the Rays' improving bullpen kept the Angels in check after that, with two solid innings from Burke Badenhop (two hits, no earned runs), a clutch strikeout by Joel Peralta of Trumbo to end the eighth and a perfect ninth by recently recalled Brandon Gomes (striking out two of the three batters he faced). That set the stage for the bottom of the ninth. Rays fans have come to expect the unexpected at times like this, and the team that has made a habit of last-ditch comebacks didn't disappoint. Reliever Scott Downs retired Joyce on a ground out to start the inning, and manager Mike Scioscia then summoned 6-5, 235-pound righthander Walden to finish off the job. Walden hadn't allowed a hit this season to a righthanded batter in seven previous at-bats. But B.J. Upton hung in on a 2-2 fastball and smacked a single into right field to keep Rays hopes alive. Catcher Jose Molina was scheduled to bat next, but Maddon sent in Allen instead. Waldon fell behind Allen 2-0 before firing a strike. That was followed by Allen's towering shot that momentarily looked like it might go out before falling short and in foul territory. Then came a four-seam fastball that Allen sent soaring into the stands, and got Rays teammates pouring out of the dugout to greet him jubilantly at the plate. For the record, it was the fourth pinch-hit walk-off homer in Rays' history. This one gave the Rays their 13th win in the last 14 regular-season home games and 20 of the past 23. They're 8-1 at home to start the season for the first time in team history, and have now won three straight series (Toronto, Minnesota and Los Angeles). "I had been told when we made the acquisition what he was like as a person," Maddon said. "They said, '80 Makeup.' (That's) as high as you can give any baseball player. It's an A-plus-plus kind of a thing. Met him here. Talked to him and just told him, I don't know how I'm going to use you yet, but just stay ready. I really did not have any idea of how this was all going to work out. And he didn't bemoan anything. He said, Fine.' He's been working very hard and he's had two good at-bats for us." And one heckuva introduction.
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