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Rays walk off, inch closer to A's in WC chase

@juanctoribio
September 25, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- Over the last season and a half, Ji-Man Choi has established himself as one of the most entertaining members in the clubhouse. He rolled out a couple of quirky dances last season, and even helped Chicago's Tim Anderson wipe his nose with his sleeve in a game

ST. PETERSBURG -- Over the last season and a half, Ji-Man Choi has established himself as one of the most entertaining members in the clubhouse. He rolled out a couple of quirky dances last season, and even helped Chicago's Tim Anderson wipe his nose with his sleeve in a game in April.

But through all the dances and comedic acts, it doesn’t get lost that the 28-year-old is enjoying a career season, and has stepped up when the Rays have needed him most in September.

Box score

Just one night after hitting a key three-run home run in the comeback win over the Red Sox, Choi came up clutch again on Tuesday, delivering a walk-off solo home run off Cory Gearrin in the 12th inning to carry the Rays to a 2-1 win over the Yankees at Tropicana Field.

With the win, and with four games left in the regular season, the Rays are within a half-game of the A's, who lost to the Angels on Tuesday, for the top American League Wild Card berth. They remain a half-game ahead of the Indians, who beat the White Sox, for the second spot.

Wild Card standings

“It’s definitely an awesome feeling,” Choi said through translator Ha Ram (Sam) Jeong. “Also, getting showered with [sports drink] and water is a great feeling to have.”

Those drink showers have become common at Tropicana Field. The next couple of games will ultimately determine if the Rays make the postseason or not, but they’re making sure things are interesting down the stretch.

Tuesday’s win marked the eighth time in the last 23 home games that the Rays have won on a walk-off. It was also the eighth consecutive extra-innings win for the Rays, a club record, and the third walk-off win of the current six-game homestand, which ends on Wednesday with the series finale against the Yankees.

Although there has been a different hero every night, Choi has been in the thick of all the action. He now has five home runs in his last 11 games. His 18 home runs extend a career high.

“He has come up clutch a lot,” said manager Kevin Cash. “The bat plays, and he has a pretty simple swing. Not a lot of moving parts to it, he just has quick hands, and he can get to a lot of pitches.”

Before Choi’s heroics, the Yankees took an early lead on Cameron Maybin's solo home run in the third inning off starter Yonny Chirinos, who looked sharp and was able to pitch three innings in his second outing since returning from the injured list. Kevin Kiermaier answered back for the Rays in the fifth inning with a solo home run of his own off Stephen Tarpley to tie the score at 1.

After the two solo home runs, it was a battle of the bullpens, and the Rays' pitching staff never flinched. Tampa Bay used eight relievers to hold New York to one run for just the 11th time this season.

“There’s no nibbling at this point,” said Chaz Roe, who pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings. “You’re attacking every guy with everything you’ve got. Everything is at stake right now, and we come ready to play every day.”

The bullpen’s effort allowed Choi to play the hero and deliver yet another celebration. He mimicked a soccer penalty kick, which he said represented the game finally coming to an end. The party carried into the clubhouse, which featured some more dance moves and strobe lights.

With just four games left in the regular season, the Rays, who have admitted to scoreboard-watching, know that the best way for them to clinch a postseason berth is to just keep winning.

They’re piling up the wins, and they’re coming in very dramatic fashion.

“What a great time to be a Ray,” Kiermaier said. “This is so much fun. I will remember this season regardless of what happens the rest of my life. It’s truly amazing, it really is.”

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.