tampabay.com

Rays trip into a victory

A catwalk-aided hit helps Tampa Bay -- despite some fundamental errors and a near-costly stumble -- pull off a comeback victory.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 3, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG -- The eighth-inning ball Carlos Pena hit that got stuck in the catwalk-related equipment above home plate proved once again that not everything that goes up at Tropicana Field has to come down.

But after he hit one to almost the same spot in the 10th inning and it came down for a hit, and after Ben Zobrist fell rounding third, the Devil Rays were jumping up in celebration of one of their weirdest home-dome wins, 4-3 over the Twins in 10 innings.

"There was a little bit of comedy out there," Pena said. "But the good thing is we were able to get a win, and that's all that matters. Actually it was quite a lot of fun."

The Rays (12-15) were able to win because Jae Seo gave them an improved start and they rallied dramatically to tie with two runs in the ninth.

All it took was a leadoff walk and three consecutive two-out singles off Twins ace closer Joe Nathan, who has given up nine hits and four runs to the Rays in three innings and one earned run and 10 hits to everyone else. "These guys have been my kryptonite," he said.

Then things got really weird.

Pena's eighth-inning popup had struck somewhere between a speaker and a ladder attached to the B-ring above home and, per stadium ground rules, was called a foul ball. He later grounded out.

The one he hit in the 10th struck about 30 feet more toward the mound and, after a friendly carom, landed on the infield dirt between first and second, a most interesting way to start a rally.

"That's the Ray version of the infield hit," manager Joe Maddon said. "Most people hit choppers. We hit balls off the rafter and have them land appropriately: fair. It's just fortunate."

Unless you were the Twins.

"I wish I could prepare our guys for ricochets off the catwalks, but it's not something we can do in spring training," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We don't have a catwalk. So you have guys running in trying to catch it.

"I think it kind of freaked us out the first time when the ball didn't come down. I think we're still looking for that one."

Maddon sent Ben Zobrist, whose struggles have cost him the starting shortstop job, to pinch-run for Pena. When Brendan Harris ripped Matt Guerrier's pitch down the leftfield line, it seemed the game was over.

Until Zobrist tripped going around third ...

"I was a little too anxious to get home," he said. "It's embarrassing, but I have to laugh about it. Jonny Gomes said, 'Congratulations you're going to be on the highlights of people tripping for 100 years to come.'"

Zobrist scrambled back to third and, with the infield playing in, made amends when he broke quickly on contact and scored ahead of the throw when pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro swung at the first pitch and hit a just-slow-enough grounder to shortstop.

The win, which moved the Rays into third place, was their major-league-high 10th coming from behind, and certainly one of the most different.

Pena said the Rays might start incorporating that play into their batting practice routine.

"Maybe we'll eliminate a couple bunts," he said, "and just work on popups off the roof."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8801.