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Tampa Bay Rays' issues are bigger than their stadium

WHAT GOES AROUND: After the Rays got a key catwalk hit in a 10-inning win vs. the unhappy Twins in 2007, they put a mannequin in Twins gear where the hit, by Carlos Peña, had ricocheted off the catwalk and back to the field.

Times (2007)

WHAT GOES AROUND: After the Rays got a key catwalk hit in a 10-inning win vs. the unhappy Twins in 2007, they put a mannequin in Twins gear where the hit, by Carlos Peña, had ricocheted off the catwalk and back to the field.

ST. PETERSBURG

If you're wondering how high the ball went before striking catwalk equipment in the ninth inning Thursday afternoon, just think of it this way: By the time the ball came back down, the Rays were out of first place.

For all the pressure, pleasure and pain of a baseball season, it is a little unnerving to think that an architect's miscalculations 25 years ago could play a role in what may be a classic pennant race.

But you have to believe it's a realistic possibility when you consider the Rays have already spent close to 50 days within one game of the lead — up, down or tied — in the American League East this season.

And when Minnesota's Jason Kubel hit a popup at the Trop for what should have been the third out in the ninth inning of a 6-6 game, and it instead turned into a winning single because it hit A-ring equipment and ricocheted away from Tampa Bay infielders, the Rays were suddenly on their way out of a first-place tie with the Yankees.

"You don't want to think this way, but down the line, if we don't win the division by one game or make it to the playoffs by one game, you'll look back over the course of the season and think of the A-ring game," said centerfielder B.J. Upton. "A stadium shouldn't determine the outcome of a game."

Naturally, it is a stretch to suggest that a single moment can change the course of history. Even if Kubel's ball had been caught, the score still would have been tied going into the bottom of the ninth, and the Rays' bullpen was practically stretched to the max, so there was no guarantee of victory. And literally thousands of other decisions, moments and bounces have already led to this point in the season.

What's different about this case, what's frustrating from a Tampa Bay perspective, is the emotional investment involved. In about 15 hours, the Rays had overcome a 1-0 deficit in the ninth Wednesday and a 6-0 deficit in the eighth Thursday, and lost both games. The Rays went 8-3 on the homestand, cut 21/2 games off the Yankees' lead and still managed to leave town in a foul mood.

"If you want a really good reason why there is a new ballpark necessary in this area, there it is," said manager Joe Maddon.

"I know it works both ways. Believe me, we've benefitted from (catwalk hits) in the past. There was a time when it was kind of cute in 2006-07, where you might win a game or lose a game because a ball hit the roof or whatever. It's not cute today. It's not cute.

"For me, this is the perfect opportunity to make a real sincere, solid point regarding the (stadium) situation here."

Actually, Joe, it's not.

Maddon has pushed a ton of correct buttons this season — including sending up Jason Bartlett with his career 1 for 9 record as a pinch-hitter to whack a tying grand slam in the eighth Thursday — but his timing is off on this one.

The stadium situation is too important and too volatile to be politicized at this moment. It would sort of be like Mayor Bill Foster saying the Rays don't deserve a new stadium when Carl Crawford leaves as a free agent.

Simply put, much bigger issues are involved than a catwalk or a leftfielder. Which doesn't mean Maddon and the Rays don't have a reason to be annoyed today.

Six-run rallies are rare enough, and they're even more special for a team hanging on to first place by its fingertips.

"We had the great comeback, and Bennie (reliever Joaquin Benoit) has been working hard, and he did the job out there. He did his job," Maddon said. "Now, if we drop a popup or lose it in the sun, or it's windblown, whatever it might be? Fine. I wouldn't even be upset. But to hit something and that causes us to lose? There are so many people emotionally involved in a loss based on something that should not happen."

When the play was over, second baseman Reid Brignac stood in the infield talking with umpire crew chief Jerry Crawford.

"I said, 'Jerry, that's an out. You know that's an out.' He said, "I know, I know.' That's just the ground rules," Brignac said. "It's just upsetting. It's the ninth inning. You come back and tie the game up, and some circus act like that happens."

The reality is the Rays will have plenty of opportunities in the next two months to make this incident a footnote instead of a part of baseball lore. They have 54 games remaining and are essentially toe-to-toe with the Yankees.

Do the job on the field and they won't have to worry about what happened on the roof.

"We don't know what the season is going to bring," reliever Dan Wheeler said. "Hopefully it doesn't come down to one game, because that wasn't baseball. We'll just deal with what we have to deal with. It's our homefield, but at the same time, you don't have to like it."

. fast facts

Other catwalk curiosities

• The A-ring catwalk ranges in height from 194 feet behind home plate to 181 in centerfield. The winning popup by the Twins' Jason Kubel that hit it Thursday probably rose about 190 feet.

• In 13 seasons, Kubel's hit was the 108th fair ball to hit one of the four catwalks: C-ring (61), B (25), D (20), A (2).

• The Tropicana Field ground rules state that a fair ball that hits one of the top two catwalks (A or B) is in play.

Tampa Bay Rays' issues are bigger than their stadium 08/05/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 5, 2010 11:44pm]

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