Navarro's walk-off spoils Yanks' clinch

Navarro's walk-off spoils Yanks' clinch

ST. PETERSBURG -- They will talk about Sept. 25, 2007, for years to come in the Velandia family -- the night their own Jorge Velandia went toe-to-toe with the great Alex Rodriguez and won.

Velandia's heroics, coupled with a walk-off home run by Dioner Navarro, added up to a 10-inning 7-6 Rays win over the Yankees in front of 24,503 on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field.

Needing a win or a Tigers loss to clinch a postseason berth, the Yankees appeared ready take matters into their own hands early, using Derek Jeter's RBI double in the first inning to take a 1-0 lead before loading up the bases in the second for Rodriguez.

A-Rod swung, the ball hit the "C Ring" catwalk and, essentially, Tuesday night's game appeared to be over -- or so everyone thought.

Rodriguez's 53rd home run of the season came off Rays starter Jason Hammel and put the Yankees up, 5-0. No doubt, the Yankees' palates could taste the champagne.

What the Yankees could not have foreseen -- nor the Rays, for that matter -- was Velandia, the 32-year-old journeyman infielder, countering Rodriguez's grand slam with one of his own in a six-run Rays sixth inning that gave them a 6-5 advantage.

Velandia, who was selected from Triple-A Durham on Sept. 10, recently spoke about his approach at the plate by noting, "I've got to move the runner. I'm a little guy. I've got to play the small game."

So Velandia struck a blow for the "little guy" everywhere when he moved his 5-foot-9, 190-pound frame into an 0-1 pitch and rode it into the left-field stands for his first career home run. Velandia rounded the bases like he'd been there before, but the straight act didn't play once he reached the Rays' dugout and was greeted by a crowd of smiling teammates, providing one of the team's feel-good moments of the season. Velandia's teammates eventually managed to push him out of the dugout for a curtain call.

"I wasn't expecting a curtain call," Velandia said. "I was embarrassed, but then I said, 'Why not? Enjoy it while you can.'"

Rays manager Joe Maddon described the dugout scene as "bedlam."

"First off, because of the grand slam, but then because he did it made it more fun because he's got this really dry sense of humor that everybody appreciates," Maddon said. "All the guys were really happy for him. The little curtain call, I liked that. It was all Velandia, the great Velandia."

Velandia had not played in the Major Leagues since a stint with the Mets in 2003, when he was selected by the Rays.

"I see guys I played with at Triple-A on TV, and I say, 'What happened to me?'" Velandia said. "Now it's happening, and I'm pretty excited about it."

Velandia's night was even more meaningful with his family in the stands, including his father, Carlos, who has spent the summer battling cancer.

"My dad was battling cancer all year," Velandia said. "Every month, he has to go to Houston [from Venezuela]. The same way I've been trying to battle to get back to the big leagues, my pops is battling to fight cancer. So, to me, it means a lot. That's why I'm playing with a lot of heart here."

The Rays tried to hang on to the 6-5 lead and might have done so had Navarro been able to hang on to Jonny Gomes' throw in the eighth. Bronson Sardinha tagged up on Melky Cabrera's flyout to left and made a dash for the plate. Gomes' throw arrived slightly off line, and Navarro tried to catch the throw while simultaneously making a sweeping tag, but the ball popped loose and the score was tied at 6.

Navarro made amends leading off the bottom of the 10th, when he hit a 2-0 fastball from Jeff Karstens into the right-field stands for the game-winner.

"It was big," Navarro said. "I felt it was my bad [to let the Yankees tie the game]. After I made the catch, I tried to make the swipe tag. I felt very bad. I was looking for one pitch, to hit it good and get on. I knew I hit it to the right part of the ballpark."

The Rays showed their mettle by not sacking the bats after falling behind, 5-0, to their perennial American League East bullies.

"We're young, we're hungry and we want to show we can play against anyone in the big leagues," Navarro said.

So the Rays took their 65th win of the season, and the Yankees will have to wait at least one more night to join the postseason party.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.