Clutch homer could propel Burrell
Rays slugger has struggled at the plate this season
ST. PETERSBURG -- It was a 96-mph fastball that Pat Burrell simply couldn't miss, and for the first time since he put on a Rays uniform, he came through in the clutch.
Burrell's walk-off two-run home run off Toronto's Brandon League on Tuesday night capped off an 11-inning, 3-1 pitchers' duel at Tropicana Field. It was just the fourth hit of the game for the Rays and the fourth homer of the season for Burrell, who may have needed just that sort of catalyst to get him going.
It was an unlikely moment for Tampa Bay's struggling slugger, who has been hampered by injury and unable to find the consistent offensive success he was signed to provide. Manager Joe Maddon hopes the postgame celebration helps cleanse him of his first-half futility.
"An at-bat like last night and those circumstances is one that can get you going in the right direction rather quickly, too," Maddon said. "I'm really looking forward to the carryover from that.
"It was a dramatic moment," Maddon added. "He came through for us. I know that he had to feel good about it when he went home last night."
Signed by the Rays in January after spending eight seasons in Philadelphia -- averaging 31 home runs and 99 RBIs over the past four years -- Burrell hasn't exactly been the slugger many expected. He's driven in 25 runs in 52 games and spent 29 games on the disabled list with a neck injury. Since his return on June 11, he's hit .156 with eight RBIs in 21 games.
"There are some guys [on this team] that have had some phenomenal first halves," Burrell said after Tuesday's game. "I'm just not one of them."
It has been frustrating for Burrell, a streaky hitter throughout his career, as he tries to work through his hitting problems while adjusting to a new clubhouse and city and trying to make an impact. He was the major acquisition for the Rays this past offseason, brought in to address the power lacking from the right-handed side of the plate last season. So far, he hasn't fulfilled that role.
Despite Burrell's efforts to get back on track, he just has not gotten his swing going anywhere near his capabilities.
"Something's got to give," Burrell said. "I've never had a problem with that, as far as putting work in. Usually you see results quicker than this. I haven't been performing; it's that simple."
A walk-off homer could be the right medicine. In any case, it could be a boost to his confidence.
Maddon said he started to see positive signs from Burrell in Texas, where he hit several hard grounders to right field and fouled others straight back. Maddon has liked that throughout the ordeal, Burrell hasn't changed his attitude coming to the ballpark and has been dedicated to fixing it.
The manager has kept strong faith in him. Based on the numbers he put up in Philadelphia and the regard other players in the league have for him, Maddon believes the best is yet to come. And Tuesday, perhaps, was a kick-start.
"His time is coming," Maddon said. "He's a young man with a great track record, and there's every reason to believe he's going to have a really good second half."
Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.