Why Tropicana Field has been such a happy place for the Rays

Tales | The team’s tremendous start to the season is due in large part to its success at home under the tilted roof.
The Rays celebrate Randy Arozarena’s winning walkoff home run during a game against the Minnesota Twins Wednesday at Tropicana Field.
The Rays celebrate Randy Arozarena’s winning walkoff home run during a game against the Minnesota Twins Wednesday at Tropicana Field. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published June 10|Updated June 10

ST. PETERSBURG — In the worst of times, the 2002 Rays won only 30 home games the entire season.

In what has the promise to become the very best of times, the Rays won their 30th game at Tropicana Field on Friday. On June 9. In their 36th of 81 scheduled home games.

“Since I’ve been here and the team has had some recent success over the last four-five years, it does feel like we’ve created a little bit of a homefield — (late radio broadcaster) Dave Wills’ dome-field — advantage,” manager Kevin Cash said.

“This year, for whatever reason, it feels like we’ve taken it to another level. A lot of that, I think, is that we have shown the ability to open up games a little more frequently than we have in the past with having a really potent offense.”

The Rays’ season has been a success story so far, with a majors-best 47-19 record entering play Saturday.

Their 17-13 road record is solid, sixth-best in the majors. Of their nine series away from home, they lost four and split another.

But their 30-6 home start through Friday has been historical.

Only one other team, the 1932 Yankees, won more than 30 of their first 36 home games. And that team, led by a couple of guys named Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, went on to finish 107-47 and win the World Series.

Four other teams also started 30-6 at home. Of those, the 1929 Athletics (who finished 104-46) and 1998 Yankees (114-48) also went on to win the World Series. The 1946 Red Sox (104-50-2) reached the Series but lost. Only the 1978 Red Sox (99-64), who famously collapsed and then got Bucky Dent-ed, didn’t reach the postseason.

The Rays traditionally have played well under Tropicana Field’s tilted roof, having the benefit of being more familiar with the quirks and catwalks and impact of the turf field.

They are 1,066-933 (.533) at home in their history, winning 52 or more games there three times and finishing .500 or better in 15 of their first 25 seasons, including four (2004, 2006, 2015, 2017) when they had losing records overall.

This year, they’ve won 10 of their first 11 home series, as well as the opener in all 12.

General manager Peter Bendix said the continuity of the roster has helped make the team better at home.

“The more you play in a unique environment, the more comfortable you are with it,” he said. “And the more of an advantage it becomes compared to people who aren’t used to it. I think that really is a big part of it.”

The big difference has been the offense. Their .830 OPS is their best in any season (.815 in 2009), and their 60 home runs match or exceed their total from three full seasons, with the record of 103 clearly in sight. Their average of 5.86 runs per game would top 2009′s team-best 5.35.

“It’s a testament to the growth of our players,” Bendix said. “This is a ballpark that is unforgiving for offense. The dimensions, the foul territory, the conditions are always very favorable for pitching. The fact that we’ve scored so many runs here, I think it’s a sign of the growth and the improvement of our offense.”

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Rays rumblings

The expanded Randy Land section will have two new members for the Rays’ next Friday home game (June 23), as Bally Sports Sun TV talkers Brian Anderson and Dewayne Staats will call the game from the leftfield seating area. … Luke Raley is making quite a name for himself with a breakout season, but not necessarily with ESPN, which in an online story called him Brooks Raley, the former Rays reliever now with the Mets. … Meanwhile, the Fenway Park clubhouse crew had a locker placard for catcher Christain (rather than Christian) Bethancourt. … Vidal Brujan will fill the reserve infield spot with Taylor Walls getting most of the playing time at second base while Brandon Lowe deals with his latest back injury. Another option at some point could be Jonathan Aranda. Rising prospect Kyle Manzardo, hitting .266 with an .859 OPS in his first Triple-A season, might swing his way into being another. … The Rays are closing in on hiring a pre-/postgame radio host. … Hard-throwing lefty Aroldis Chapman, now with the Royals, will be one of the bigger-name relievers on the trade market, but don’t expect the Rays to be interested, given his past history with them and other baggage. … The 24-hour-or-so speculation about Joe Girardi and the UCF baseball coaching job was, at the least, interesting. At the proper time, Rays hitting coach Chad Mottola could be a good fit, as he played for the Golden Knights and still lives in that area. ... The latest mock draft has the Rays taking University of Florida right-hander Hurston Waldrep with the No. 19 pick. Strawberry Crest shortstop Arjun Nimmala is projected at No. 10 to the Marlins, and Mitchell High third baseman Aidan Miller No. 14 to the Red Sox. … Fast-rising 19-year-old infield prospect Junior Caminero not only had good timing in hitting his first homer since his June 1 promotion to Double-A Montgomery on Thursday with Bendix in the stands, he made it a memorable blast — 455 feet to dead center. ... The Rays head out Sunday for the first of consecutive West Coast trips, first to Oakland and San Diego, then after a six-game homestand, to Arizona and Seattle.

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