'I'll never forget this moment': Kiermaier hits two-run walk-off homer

Pitching staff sees combined no-no end in 10th, but Rays rally vs. Sox

April 24th, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays pitchers J.P. Feyereisen, Javy Guerra, Jeffrey Springs, Jason Adam, Ryan Thompson and Andrew Kittredge combined to pitch nine hitless innings against the Red Sox on Saturday night. But when Kittredge retired Jackie Bradley Jr. for the third out of the ninth inning, there were no joyful hugs on the mound at Tropicana Field. There could be no celebration while they were locked in a scoreless tie.

Inside the home dugout, manager Kevin Cash admitted, the Rays recognized they might be on the verge of something "really special" -- a combined no-hitter capped by a walk-off victory. Or, Cash added, they could have been nearing "something really unique, and not in the best way" -- nine innings of no-hit ball and a loss at the end of the night.

Ultimately, the Rays did something no team had ever done before. Tampa Bay became the first team to throw a no-hitter through nine innings, lose the no-hit bid in extras and then wind up winning on a walk-off hit. And the game-winner turned out to be a special one, as hit the first walk-off homer of his life to finish the Rays' 3-2, 10-inning victory over the Red Sox.

"You dream of a lot of things once you get to the big leagues, and for me, I wanted to hit a walk-off homer," Kiermaier said. "I've never done it at any level -- backyard baseball, Minor Leagues, big leagues -- and today was the day. I am so ecstatic, so thrilled. I'll never forget this moment, this day."

It was nearly one of the Rays' more frustrating losses. For as untouchable as Tampa Bay's pitching staff was for nine innings, the Rays' lineup struggled even more to get to Boston's arms. After the seventh inning, third baseman Taylor Walls looked up at the scoreboard just to see how many hits the Rays had. (One, it turned out, plus one walk.) It was only at that point he realized their pitching staff had a shot at the franchise's second no-hitter.

"I honestly looked up there to see how many hits we got, because I knew we didn't have that many. And then I realized they didn't have any either," Walls said. "And I'm like, 'Oh my God, it's the eighth inning and we've got one hit combined.'"

Brett Phillips picked up another hit in the eighth, then Mike Zunino's fly ball fell four feet short of giving the Rays the lead they needed to potentially make history in the ninth. But they came up empty again in the bottom of the ninth and sent a scoreless tie into the 10th, when the Red Sox capitalized on their extra opportunity.

With right-hander Matt Wisler pitching and Bradley on second as the automatic runner in the 10th, Bobby Dalbec sliced a fly ball toward the right-field corner. Phillips made a sliding attempt -- "100 percent all-out," he said -- but the ball tipped off his glove and landed for a triple, Boston's first hit of the night. Bradley scored easily, Dalbec then scored on a sacrifice fly and the Red Sox were seemingly on their way to a wild win.

"You see what our pitching staff did through nine, it would have been a tough one to lose," Phillips said. "From an offensive standpoint, we did not pull our weight."

Until their backs were up against the wall, anyway. Automatic runner Randy Arozarena advanced to third base with two outs in the 10th on a balk by Hansel Robles. Walls then hustled out a grounder to second baseman Trevor Story, forcing an errant throw that allowed Arozarena to score and finally put the Rays on the board.

"I was thinking that in the ninth inning. I'm like, 'There's no way we're gonna let these guys go no-hit through nine and then not win this game,'" Walls said. "I mean, anytime those guys are in the game, it gives us a ton of confidence. And all we've got to do is put up a few runs for them."

Up came Kiermaier, carrying a .410 OPS on the year and without a homer in 48 games since Aug. 16. He tried to get back on track Friday by borrowing Arozarena's bats -- the 33 1/2-inch, 31 1/2-ounce Chandler models -- and ditching his own. They brought the results he wanted Saturday night.

Kiermaier got ahead in the count, 3-1, and smashed a fastball into the right-field seats at 105.6 mph. The veteran center fielder spread his arms wide, ditched his helmet before he reached second base and jumped on top of the plate into a mob of his teammates.

"I've had that dream forever, and it's a moment no one can ever take away from me, and I'm so proud," Kiermaier said. "I said before my career's over I want to win a World Series and, No. 2 behind that, I want to hit a walk-off [homer]. I want to know what this moment's like. I now know it."

The Rays' celebration, it turned out, just had to wait a little longer than expected.

"To come up on the short end would be pretty devastating, so KK picking us up big there, that's just a huge moment for us and just an awesome team win," Kittredge said. "I mean, that's probably one of the coolest wins I've ever been a part of."