ST. PETERSBURG -- Sixty-one plate appearances, and Willy Aybar finally did it.
The Rays' reserve infielder came up big in their 7-6 win over the Orioles on Monday, hitting a two-out, pinch-hit three-run homer in the seventh inning to tie the game at 6.
Aybar has spent four seasons in the Major Leagues and has never really been an everyday player. But until Monday, a pinch-hit opportunity had never resulted in a long ball.
"In baseball, you're not looking for the home run," Aybar, who was staring at first base and batting fifth against the Orioles on Tuesday, said in Spanish. "You're trying to make good contact with the ball and see what happens. You can't step up to the plate and look for the home run. You just have to try to make good contact, and the ball will make a decision."
Hitting a baseball in the big leagues is hard enough. It's even harder when it's the type of tight situation Aybar faced when he came to the plate on Monday. And it's even harder than that when it comes after sitting on the bench for the better part of seven innings.
And that's why they say pinch-hitting is an art in itself.
"You just have to be strong mentally," said Aybar, who has hit safely in 11 of his past 12 games and sports a career .255 batting average (14-for-55) as a pinch-hitter. "You may not be in the game physically, but your mind has to be in the game, because they can put you in to pinch-hit at any moment in the game. You have to keep your head in the game. Then, when the opportunity comes, try to take advantage of it and do the best you can."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.