ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays fans had not come to lose, and so they clanged cowbells and punched pompoms and slighted their seats to stand and scream. Children sang soft rounds of "Let's go Rays, let's go." Adults shouted for Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli to "choke on his own beard."
Somewhere between good baseball and this newfound energy — the soldout stadium and the $5 commemorative pens and the beer, ice-cold beer! — the Rays won Monday night.
Robert Curti, a 55-year-old project manager from Palm Harbor who not only stood for good plays but wiggled his hips, said, "Maybe now, we'll see more people supporting the team."
KK Matheny, a 25-year-old lingerie football quarterback who high-fived every stranger she could find, eyed her friends for an invitation to tonight's game. "We got this," she said.
Monday night's game came at a strange time for Tampa Bay. Despite a solid record, ticket sales have lagged again and again. The area has been accused of not having a fan base to support a Major League Baseball team. Tampa is wooing the Rays to move across the bay with the subtlety of a car alarm.
But, on Monday, if only for a few hours, the Rays were the darling of Tampa Bay.
"The Trop is an awesome stadium. We're just a young fan base is all," said 56-year-old Bruce Dutton. He has come to most of the games this season and isn't sure why others haven't. "Where else in Florida can you sit in 71-degree temperatures and not worry about the rain?"
Christina Diamond, 31, predicted during the fourth inning that the Rays would pull a last-minute win. "They're known for it," she said. "And we have a great team, and the stadium should always be packed like this."
Looking out across the field, it was difficult to find empty blue seats. The big screen replayed past Rays victories. When the Rays swung and missed, hands flew to faces. When Alex Cobb struck out Dustin Pedroia, men embraced their wives.
Though only 19, Courtland Samuels has been sitting in row FF, seats 9 and 10, of his section for more than a decade. He really likes baseball. And he's not sure when he last saw such a crowd at the Trop. The win, he said, was huge.
When the season ends and they circle back to opening day, there will be another big crowd, he said. Opening day is like that. But he doesn't have high hopes for after that. He has been to his share of playoff games. The excitement always dies down.
But that was a worry for next year, Samuels said, and he didn't want to look so far ahead.
He was looking forward to Game 4.