Zobrist making impact in grand fashion

Zobrist making grand impact

ST. PETERSBURG -- Good fortune is what Ben Zobrist attributes his knack for going deep with the bases loaded to.

So far, the Rays' 28-year-old utility man has had that fortune a franchise-record four times.

The latest came Wednesday night, when Zobrist broke the game open against Royals starter Brian Bannister with two outs in the fourth inning by taking a 2-2 cutter on the outer half of the plate and blasting it over the left-field fence with the bases juiced to give his club a seemingly insurmountable 8-0 lead.

Not only did his fourth career grand slam pass first baseman Carlos Pena (three) for first place on the club's all-time list, but he became only the third player since 2005 to hit a grand slam from each side of the plate in one season. The other two on that list are the Yankees' Nick Swisher ('08) and the Mets' Carlos Beltran ('06).

Entering the game, he was already the first Rays player to hit a grand slam from each side of the plate in his career.

Zobrist, a switch-hitter, hit his first slam against the White Sox on April 17 from the right side of the plate. And while hitting lefty against Bannister, Zobrist's grand slam went to the opposite field. He said he was "surprised" to go the other way, saying: "I'm not used to doing that, so that was a new thing."

But production with the bases loaded sure isn't. Zobrist, now in his fourth year, is a career .412 hitter (7-for-17) with 26 RBIs in that situation.

His four grand slams in 610 career at-bats entering Thursday give him an average of one every 152.5 at-bats, which, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, ranks second in Major League history among players with four or more grand slams. The only one better is White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who had hit five while averaging a slam every 130.8 at-bats entering Wednesday.

"I know it's kind of a broken record at this point, but I'm just trying to go up there and see the ball well and hit it hard," said Zobrist, who now has 10 home runs this year and is the first American League player to hit two grand slams in 2009. "Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn't, and I've just been fortunate the few times I've had the bases loaded to really put some good swings on balls."

With eight players currently on the disabled list, the Rays need hitters like Zobrist to produce in order to stay within striking distance in the historically tough AL East.

So far, he hasn't let them down.

Zobrist carried a nine-game hitting streak into Thursday's game, which ties his career high. During that streak, he's batted .387 (12-for-31) with two home runs and nine RBIs.

But perhaps most important to manager Joe Maddon is that Zobrist has worked nine walks in that span, and he had reached base 40 times in his past 77 plate appearances entering Thursday.

"He works a good at-bat, and he puts himself in a position to hit the ball hard -- that's what he does," Maddon said. "You can talk about it all you want, and you can slice it so many different ways, but if you work a good at-bat and you work the count, get the right pitch, and you put your 'A' hack on it, good things can happen."

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