Casey Kotchman hit a walk-off home run on the first pitch of the ninth inning as the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Kansas City Royals 2-1 Monday night in the first of a four-game series at Tropicana Field.
Kotchman had three of Tampa Bay’s six hits, and drove in both runs. His RBI single off Luke Hochevar scored Ben Zobrist to tie the game at 1 in the seventh inning. Then, leading off the bottom of the ninth, he got a fastball up in the strike zone from Blake Wood and drove it over the center-field wall for the game-winner. It seems like a lot of Rays fans have been waiting for the "Magic of Kotch" to wear off, but we’re into August now and Casey still has a career high in batting average (.341) and in all three parts of the offensive slash line (.400/.479/.879). Kotchman’s average is currently 125 points higher than it was last season with the Mariners, and he only trails Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez (.350) among qualifying hitters in the American League. Even devoted statheads like our fearless leader Slowinski have given up trying to explain it.
Jeremy Hellickson pitched another excellent game — 7 1/3 innings, three hits, one earned run, three walks, seven strikeouts. He threw 106 pitches and had the Royals guessing all night between his fastball and changeup. (11 of the 40 changeups Hellickson threw were swung at and missed.) Jeremy did allow four doubles, but only Alex Gordon, who led off the game with one, came around to score.
Joel Peralta cleaned up the eighth inning, and Kyle Farnsworth pitched a perfect ninth inning, getting the win when Kotchman went deep.
Game two of this four-game series is Tuesday night at 7:10. James Shields will start for the Rays, while Jeff Francis takes the mound for Kansas City.