Trop becoming House of Trip

Published May 4, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays LF Carl Crawford has taken this path more often than most while trying to stretch a double into a triple.

But during this three-game series against the Twins, the 90 feet between second base and third at Tropicana Field suddenly became treacherous dirt.

In the fourth inning of the Rays' 6-4 win Thursday, Crawford hit a fly ball over centerfielder Torii Hunter's head and was on his way to his 67th career triple until he stumbled midway to third and retreated to second.

"Golly, seems all the crazy baserunning stuff happens against Minnesota, " Crawford said. "It's been like a circus this series, but as long as we came out winning the series, I guess it was fun for everybody to watch."

It was the third time this series that a baserunner fell. Rays SS Ben Zobrist tripped over the third-base bag turning toward home in the 10th inning Wednesday before eventually scoring the winning run. Twins OF Michael Cuddyer stumbled Tuesday near the same spot as Crawford, falling forward and flipping over while trying to go from first to third.

"It must be the way they're cleaning the shoes, " Rays RHP James Shields said.

Rays manager Joe Maddon had a different explanation. "Cuddyer screwed the whole field up, " he said jokingly. "Cuddyer messed up everything. ... It's all Cuddyer's fault."

TROP ACCESSORIZING: The Rays aren't stopping at putting large baseballs on the roof of Tropicana Field. Their renovation plans include making the stadium's outside columns look like oversized bats, and the balls will appear to be resting on the bats, according to Kevin Dunn, St. Petersburg's managing director of development coordination.

MINOR MATTERS: Triple-A Durham RHP Jeff Niemann allowed four runs -- two earned -- on four hits in 5 1/3 innings Thursday. He walked five and struck out six. ... Double-A Montgomery OF Fernando Perez went on the DL with a left knee strain. ... Former Rays first-round pick Wade Townsend threw three innings and allowed one run on two hits Wednesday.

MISCELLANY: The Rays improved to 7-7 at home. ... They have homered in 11 of 14 home games this season. ... Opposing batters are just 1-for-31 against Rays RHP Al Reyes in save opportunities. ... DH/OF Jonny Gomes went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in his first start in rightfield. ... Twins C Joe Mauer struck out twice for just the third time in his career and first time since his 2005 rookie season. ... With a career-high three hits from SS Brendan Harris, the Rays have 26 hits out of the ninth spot in the lineup, second most in the majors Toronto, 31. ... Tonight's starter, LHP Casey Fossum, was away from the team Thursday attending the funeral of former Red Sox teammate Josh Hancock. ... Coinciding with tonight's beach night theme, a sand castle sculptor will be outside Gate 1.

Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at eencina@sptimes.com Staff writer Aaron Sharockman contributed to this report.