ST. PETERSBURG -- Catwalks can give or they can take where Tropicana Field is concerned. Still, being on the wrong end of quirky fate can leave even the most upbeat of personalities a little cranky.
Pan to Joe Maddon after the Rays' 8-6 loss to the Twins Thursday afternoon. The Rays manager had just seen his team erase a 6-0 lead in the bottom of the eighth, only to come out on the wrong side of catwalk justice, which turned Jason Kubel's two-out, inning-ending popup into a game-winning single.
Kubel's hit came against Joaquin Benoit and appeared to be the final out of the inning. Instead, the ball became the second in Tropicana Field's 13-year history to strike the A-ring catwalk in fair play. The A-ring is suspended approximately 190-feet above the infield.
Tropicana Field's ground rules state that any ball hitting the A-ring catwalk in fair territory and landing in fair territory is in play. So when Kubel's ball landed between the infield dirt and the pitcher's mound he was awarded a base hit and the go-ahead run scored. Michael Cuddyer followed with an RBI single to put the Twins up 8-6.
"I think it's probably the perfect commercial advertisement for a reason to have a new ballpark," Maddon said. "There's no better reason than that. I know it works both ways, but to lose a game in a pennant situation like that because of the roof truly indicates why there's a crying need for a new ballpark in this area, regardless of where they put it.
"It just needs to be a real baseball field where, if you were to lose the pennant by one game and look back at a game like that because the roof got in the way, we'd be very upset."
Despite Thursday afternoon's loss, the Rays did what they needed to do during their extended homestand by posting an 8-3 mark at Tropicana Field.
Included in the Rays' wake was a four-game sweep of the Tigers and a series win over the Yankees before they lost the last two against the Twins to split their four-game series.
The Rays are now 67-41 on the season and a half-game behind the Yankees in the American League East.
The only other occasion that the catwalks definitively affected the outcome of the game was May 2, 2007, ironically against the Twins in a game won by the Rays 4-3. In that game Carlos Pena's infield pop fly struck the B-ring and fell for a single with one out in the 10th. Brendan Harris then doubled, sending pinch-runner Ben Zobrist to third base from where he scored the winning run on a fielder's choice by Dioner Navarro.
That game seemed like a long time ago in the minds of the Rays, but Kubel remembered being on the other side of the emotional fence.
"I'll take it," said Kubel of his hit. "Any way to get on base and get a run in, that's all that matters. Pena's done it to us, so it's good to get them back. Any way it works, I'm happy with it."
Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett appeared to be camped under Kubel's hit on the far side of the infield clay when the ball's path was altered.
"I knew that with high fly balls here, you tend to lose them at the top so you have to stay with it," Bartlett said. "And then, at the last second at the top, it hit that catwalk and dropped straight down.
"I thought at first, maybe if we would have stuck with it, I might have got it, but I looked at the replay and Reid [Brignac, the Rays second baseman] and I were both at the edge of the dirt when it hit, so I don't think anybody had a shot. The ball was coming right to us at the edge of the dirt."
Talk about a reversal of fortunes. Bartlett had just been the guy to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth with a two-out, pinch-hit grand slam off Ron Mahay shortly after the Rays had chased starter Kevin Slowey.
Slowey pitched seven scoreless innings, but the Rays slowly came to life in the eighth. B.J. Upton homered to center field to start the inning and a rally ensued.
One out after Upton's homer, Slowey hit Kelly Shoppach and Sean Rodriguez followed with a single. Evan Longoria drew a two-out walk, prompting the Twins to bring in Jesse Crain to pitch to Willy Aybar. The Rays DH drew a walk to score Shoppach and cut the lead to 6-2 with Matt Joyce preparing to hit.
The left-handed-hitting Joyce had beaten the Twins with a pinch-hit grand slam in Minneapolis on July 3, which likely influenced Twins manager Ron Gardenhire's decision to bring in left-hander Ron Mahay. Maddon countered by inserting Bartlett into the game to pinch-hit for Joyce.
Bartlett then delivered the Rays' second pinch-hit grand slam of the season, hitting a 1-0 pitch into the left-field stands to tie the game at 6.
The Rays had fought from behind from the beginning. Wade Davis started and the best thing that could be said about his outing was that he gutted through six tough innings, which looked like a remote possibility after the first inning when the Twins scored four times on five consecutive hits.
The Twins padded their lead with Jason Repko's third home run of the season and Drew Butera added an RBI double in the sixth.
After going 4-0 in July and earning American League Rookie of the Month honors, Davis allowed six runs on 10 hits while walking one and striking out two. But the comeback negated his 10th loss of the season and gave him a no-decision.
"A lot of things weren't there today," Davis said. "I just didn't have good stuff. I didn't have my breaking stuff, my offspeed stuff and my fastball wasn't great."
Gardenhire smiled when asked about the Twins moving from a dome this season to an outdoor stadium.
"I'm thankful for the [catwalk] today," Gardenhire said. "I'll take it. I kind of like it right now."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.