Hinske forced to cheer from sideline

BOB ELLIOTT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:22 AM ET

ST. PETERSBURG -- How good are these Tampa Bay Rays anyway?

So good that they lopped Eric Hinske off their post-season roster.

All Hinske, the former rookie of the year with the Blue Jays in 2002, did was hit 20 homers in 381 at-bats as the left-handed hitting platoon right fielder this season for the American League East winning Rays.

That total would have been good enough to tie for the club lead with the Jays. Vernon Wells hit 20 in 427 at-bats.

"I understand the decision, they want Gabe Gross in right because he has a better arm, I didn't start against the Chicago White Sox, so I figured I'd be the odd-man out," Hinske said after he emerged from the dugout yesterday afternoon with his pal Evan Longoria before Game 1 of the best-of-seven AL Championship Series at Tropicana Field.

Manager Joe Maddon went with an 11th pitcher -- right-hander Edwin Jackson on his roster -- which makes Hinske a cheerleader for this round.

"I've been around long enough, I understand it's not about me ... it's about winning games at this time of the year."

Just then, Longoria interjected saying: "Try to get him a contract for next season, I am. Hey what does 20 and 60 get you?"

Besides the 20 homers, Hinske knocked in 60 runs in his part-time role hitting .247.

"These guys want to talk to me about next year, but I might like to see what the National League is all about, I can play four positions. I've been in the AL East my whole career."

Hinske earned a World Series ring with the Boston Red Sox in 2007 after they purchased his contract on Aug. 17, 2006.

And every trip into the Rogers Centre he's booed as loudly as any visiting player, save for maybe New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez.

"I don't really understand it, it's not like I left as a free agent," Hinske said.

"I didn't live up to my potential. I had the good first year, they gave me the five-year contract and then I didn't do as well. It's like I tell these young guys." he said.

Hinske hit 24 homers and knocked in 84 runs to receive 19 of 28 first-place votes in balloting by the Baseball Writers of America Association back in 2002.

After his rookie year, Hinske never hit more than 15 homers (twice) or drove in more than 69 with the Jays.

"I wish the Jays well, I always talk to Vernon and I hope Roy Halladay wins every start (except against Tampa Bay). Toronto was good to me, the Jays gave me my start," Hinske said.

How does Hinske compare the post-season experience of Fenway Park to The Trop?

"Boston had tradition and the fans who were into every pitch," Hinske said. "Here is totally different. It's like a party with the mohawk hair cuts. Fans are dying their hair."

Second baseman Akinori Iwamura started the trend, a couple of players followed and when Maddon jumped in, all the players did so.

"We had a no-guard done," Hinske said.

A no-guard?

"You put a guard on the clippers so it cuts your hair at a different length, well we went no-guard, had our heads shaved, except for the middle," he says as he doffs his head. "That was August, it's starting to grow back now."

Just then, Longoria walks away.

"I don't know if I've ever played with anyone this good. He's going to be another David Wright. Maybe better."


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