Sports

September 30, 2011

Postseason a whole new ballgame for Rays' Shoppach

Fort Worth's Kelly Shoppach swings a strong bat in Game 1 victory.

ARLINGTON -- Tampa Bay's Kelly Shoppach endured his roughest season at the plate in his six-year career. He had a dreadful .168 average in the first half, and didn't fare much better in the second half, hitting .188.

But it's a new season once the playoffs begin. After his performance on Friday afternoon, it's hard to believe that Shoppach finished the regular season with a .176 average, 11 home runs and 22 RBIs in 87 games.

Shoppach, the White Settlement Brewer product who resides in Fort Worth, came through with two home runs and five RBIs to help the Rays roll to a 9-0 victory over the Rangers in Game 1 of the best-of-five American League Division Series at Rangers Ballpark.

"Any time you play well, you feel confident," said Shoppach, who hit home runs in back-to-back games on Sunday and Monday. "But I'm not going to change what I have been thinking all along. Sometimes they throw it where I'm swinging, and when they do that, I have a chance to get some hits."

In his career against Rangers starter C.J. Wilson going into Friday's game, Shoppach was 2 for 7, including a home run on Sept. 1.

Shoppach followed Johnny Damon's two-run homer in the second with a single to left. Three batters later Shoppach scored on a single by Matt Joyce.

In the third, Shoppach unloaded on Wilson's first-pitch fastball, sending a three-run blast to straightaway center field. He then belted a 3-2 slider over the left-field wall for another two-run shot in the fifth, giving Tampa Bay an 8-0 lead.

"He had a good day," Rangers catcher Mike Napoli said. "Of course you'd like to execute a little better, but he got it done."

Still, it came as a surprise considering how Shoppach struggled this season. The Rays benched him in early September to get a better look at catcher Jose Lobaton.

Lobaton didn't provide much more offense, either, hitting .133 with one extra-base hit in 12 games, including eight starts, in September. Shoppach found his way back into the starting lineup because of his defense and his ability to call games. He threw out 36.6 percent of attempted base stealers, the second most in the majors. Shoppach worked well with rookie Matt Moore, too, but the talk of the day revolved around his offense.

"How about it? Two homers," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "He just looks a lot more comfortable at the plate."

Shoppach relished his day, especially putting on a show in front of family and friends.

"We came in here last year and I didn't play in either game," Shoppach said. "It's nice to come back and play for these people who helped me get to this point. What a day."

Follow Drew Davison on

Twitter @drewdavison.

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