Catwalk calamity spoils Rays' rally

St. Petersburg, Fla. - Tampa Bay Rays infielder Reid Brignac said that in any other stadium in the majors, the popup by Minnesota Twins outfielder Jason Kubel in the ninth inning Thursday afternoon would have been an out.

“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time,” Rays first baseman Dan Johnson said.

But Tropicana Field is no ordinary park, and the sleepy-turned-stunning game was no ordinary 8-6 loss for Tampa Bay in front of 29,210 fans.

The Rays had overcome a six-run deficit to tie it in the eighth inning thanks to a two-out, pinch-hit Jason Bartlett grand slam. But the Rays’ fortunes, and emotions, did a 180 when Kubel’s two-out infield fly struck the A-ring catwalk about 190 feet above the field and dropped near the pitcher’s mound to allow the go-ahead run to score from third. It was the second ball in the park’s 13-year history to hit that catwalk.

“That’s just a gift right there,” Kubel said.

The Rays chose other words to describe it: frustrating, unlucky, unbelievable. Manager Joe Maddon made it a stadium issue, saying it showed why there’s a “crying need” for a new ballpark, “wherever they put it.

“If you 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.”

The players left for Toronto saying the loss put a sour end to what was an impressive 8-3 homestand against three contending teams. Tampa Bay (67-41) fell a half-game behind the idle first-place Yankees in the AL East.

“I’m sure on the flight a lot of guys are going to be thinking about it,” center fielder B.J. Upton said. “Just coming in after the game, a lot of guys weren’t happy about it, especially the way we fought back and came back the way we did. Not to say we were going to win that game, but we put ourselves in position. Unfortunately, the A-ring took us out of it.”