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Cantu delivers, with love
RAYS 7, WHITE SOX 6: A walkoff homer fulfills a promise to his mom on the Mexican Mother's Day.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 11, 2005
[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]
Jorge Cantu extends his hand for first-base coach Billy Hatcher after his homer gave the Rays two straight wins over the White Sox.
ST. PETERSBURG - At Tropicana Field on Tuesday night, a son celebrated.
Jorge Cantu's ninth-inning home run gave the Devil Rays a thrilling 7-6 walkoff win over the best-in-baseball White Sox, and he basked in the moment.
In Reynosa, Mexico, a mother cried.
Adriana Cantu had already gotten two calls Tuesday from her son and gifts of flowers and chocolates to celebrate Dia de las Madres - Mexican Mother's Day - when he called back a third time with a promise he had never made to anyone: to hit a home run for her.
"I'm so very happy," Adriana said late Tuesday night from Mexico. "I'm so very proud of my son. I love him so much. I miss him so much. I've been crying a lot."
Adriana watched the game at the family home on DirecTV, then went out to a relative's restaurant, La Pasta, to celebrate, the gathering so noisy she had to step outside to use her cell phone.
Even as the game went back and forth, the Rays twice rallying to tie, Adriana waited patiently for her son to deliver. His two-out single in the seventh made it 6-6, but he saved the best for last, driving a one-out 1-and-0 pitch from reliever Shingo Takatsu into the leftfield seats.
"I've always had faith in him," Adriana said.
Cantu seemed to be promising a lot for a guy who had just recently returned to the lineup and was moved from second base to third.
"I told my mom on the phone, "Mom, I want to hit one for you, it's Mother's Day, you're going to have a heck of a day, the whole day, and you're going to go back home at night and you're going to watch me,' " Cantu said.
"She started crying over the phone, and I'm like, "I've got to do this. I really have to.' She's real sentimental. ... It's something special, I've been away from her like 7-8 years on Mother's Day (which is always May 10 in Mexico), I've never been there for her. I tried to make it special, long distance."
Not only did Cantu hit his first as-promised homer, it was the first time at any level he hit a home run to end a game.
"You know what, this is my first one," Cantu said. "And in the big leagues. How good is that?"
That it gave the Rays a second straight win over the major league-leading White Sox, who had lost back-to-back-games only twice all season, made it even better.
"It couldn't have come at a better time," Rays manager Lou Piniella said. "I like Mexican Mother's Day."
The Rays worked hard for the victory. The Sox scored first, extending their major-league record season-opening streak to 33 games in which they have led, but the Rays battled back from 4-1 and 6-4 deficits to tie.
Toby Hall, extending his hitting streak to a career-best 11 games, hit a three-run homer in the fourth. Aubrey Huff, Chris Singleton and Cantu all had big hits in the two-run seventh.
Starter Mark Hendrickson wasn't sharp, Rob Bell left after throwing five mostly wild pitches to one batter and Danys Baez and Lance Carter were both considered unavailable, but Travis Harper and Trever Miller got the Rays to the ninth, and Jesus Colome, activated off the disabled list before the game, got the win for a 1-2-3 ninth.
Cantu opened the season as the everyday second baseman, but a cool stretch at the plate combined with a hot streak by Nick Green led to a change. Piniella gave Cantu a few days off, then put him back in the lineup at third, and it has proved to be a successful move, with Cantu going 7-for-16 in four games with two homers and five RBIs.
"We gave him a little time off when he was in a bit of a funk; sometimes that's the best thing to do when that happens to a young player," Piniella said.
It turns out that wasn't the only right move Piniella made. As Cantu went to the plate in the ninth, Piniella also made a prediction.
"I told (hitting coach) Lee Elia, "Let's see if he hits one out here,' " Piniella said. "And boy did he hit that ball well to left-centerfield. There was no doubt when it left the bat."
Certainly not at Adriana Cantu's house in Reynosa, Mexico.