Long,Long Night at the Rays 4-Ring Circus
Most Tampa Bay Rays fan might not remember the days when Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus used to have their first shows of the year right here in St. Petersburg after leaving their Winter quarters in Sarasota, Florida.
The railroad track spur that slide right by Ferg’s and sit just a outfield throw to the North of Parking Lot # 6 used to accommodate the big cats cages and the elephants before their annual stroll down First Avenue South towards the long gone Bayfront Center.
Sunday night truly had that air of being a 3-ring circus, and not just because Cirque de Soleil greeted fans in the rotunda with tricks, quips and even a bit of pantomime, there was just that sense of anything happening at any time. From the first moment the performers of the La Nouba troupe made their way onto the Trop’s turf, suspense and excitement was on the menu.
Who in their right mind could have predicted, fantasied or even daydreamed the unfolding of the electrified events that were to escalate and vibrate the crowd way past the surrounding tavern’s closing times. The journey definitely reminded me of those first Circus shows of the season, only thing missing was Rays In-Game Host Rusty Kath with a top hat and a sparkling tux.
We saw grown men becoming starry-eyed boys for a moment as the Boston Red Sox bench went back to their Little League roots and sported their “ rally caps”, and even had a rare sighting of Rays Bench Coach Dave Martinez and his trimmed mane both get thrown out of the game on a play that did resemble a bit of frustration and stupidity.
All in all if you took your eyes off the field you were surely going to miss something. Fitting we have a circus act perform the night Jeff Niemann who does resemble Toys R Us icon Geoffrey the Giraffe, post up one of the best performances of his career. Not only did the Tall Texan silent the Red Sox offense with only 2 hits, he also sent 10 grumbling back to the visitor’s dugout via the strikeout.
Then you had Rays resident Roy Hobbs imitator Sean Rodriguez take out not an outfield light pole, but a hot light situated just above the Third Baseline in classic “The Natural” cinematic form. Was kind of humorous for a moment seeing Rays Third Base Coach Tom Foley move faster than he has in years to escape the heated filament and glass particles.
Thank goodness the action did not leave anyone with an injury, just a story for the ages. But that was the second time a ball had hit one of the infamous catwalks in this ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcast that showed the entire Nation the heart and spirit of both these teams.
Did you know the Tropicana Field cleaning crew did not punch out until 9:20-ish on Monday morning.
Seriously, from the fan jumping on the field trying to be part of the ESPN experience, and instead being face-planted into the fine grass blades of the Trop., you really couldn’t take you eyes away from the madness. The best part of the evening was seeing that intensity, that energy level ebb and flow all night long like the Tampa Bay tides.
It was a Sunday Fun Day, and definitely if you wanted your money’s worth, you got it on Sunday night. Niemann threw his first pitch at 8:10 pm, and there was no indicator of the barrel of fun to come…ending some 5 hours and 44 minutes later. But Rays Manager Joe Maddon was the first to exit the building at 11:55 pm after arguing a checked swing call, being sent to the Clubhouse.
Twice the Rays saw their leaders sent to the showers, not early, but late as Martinez got his exit toss at around 12:04 am on Monday. Game became so exhausting Rays broadcaster Brian Anderson, who had the night off because of the ESPN telecast fell asleep at 12:45 am during the lucky 13th inning.
Even though Rodriguez brought about his “the Natural” moment, several times during this marathon games guys like Evan Longoria, Reid Brignac and even Matt Joyce had chances to put this thing to bed before midnight.
The most dramatic might have been the pinch-hit by Joyce who had been sidelined by a knee swelling incident and could have had his own Kirk Gibson-style moment. Unfortunately Joyce. Longoria had a chance to break a few television viewing Red Sox hearts in the bottom of the 9th, but ended up hitting a ball to the shortstop for the first out in the bottom of the 9th inning. Longo then came up with two outs and two men on base and hit a routine fly ball to Rightfield to take the game into extra innings.
Briggy Baseball has the last effort for the Rays at around 1:54 am as he grounded out to put the longest game in Rays history officially in the record books. Even though the home side had to go home with a losing effort, this is a firm indicator of the fight and drive within the Rays that could be beneficial in the near future.
We had exploding halogen lamps, superb pin-point pitching by both squads, and saw the giraffe take another step forward in his evolution. We saw balls juggled then fired towards the plate with a perfect break on it, and a single to Rightfield break the Rays hearts.
The only thing missing was that awe inspiring top hat and tux while Rusty was doing his game day shtick while barking into his headset The Trop has 4 rings in its roof system, so maybe it going into extra innings made sense of this circus-inspired night. Oh, and we had a brown bear down in the Bullpen (Bobby Ramos).