Oh, the Rays could have sent their fans dancing into the night hours earlier had someone heeded the warning of umpires and not left a few equipment bags lying on the turf in the bullpen.
That’s where the baseball thrown by Boston Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard became lodged during the bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday’s game at Tropicana Field.
Ben Zobrist appeared to have scored all the way from first on the play, a run that would have given the Rays a 3-2 win (provided J.P. Howell closed the game out in the ninth). Instead, the teams played on and on and on.
The Rays eventually won in 13 innings on Evan Longoria’s two-run, two-out home run.
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But they might have won earlier.
“To lose a game like that would have been really annoying,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Maddon knew the rule. And he knew all about the umpires' warning to keep the bullpen area free of equipment bags and the like.
“It’s my fault,” Maddon said.
Here’s what happened:
Zobrist followed Longoria’s solo home run that tied the score at 2-2 with a walk. Willy Aybar followed with a sacrifice bunt that rolled in front of the plate. Bard picked up the ball and threw it into right field. The ball rolled into the Rays bullpen as Zobrist hustled all the way around from first and Aybar ran to third.
But the umpires huddled and, citing Rule 7.05 (g) of the rule book, ruled it a dead ball. Since the ball lodged in equipment, the runners were awarded two bases from where they were when the pitch was delivered.
“It’s two bases, period,” Maddon said. “I had no argument whatsoever. I mean, I could have scored from the dugout on that play. It’s just unfortunate. It’s a rule, and it’s our fault for having the equipment in play. The bag will not be on the (turf) again.”
Willy Aybar served as the designated hitter Tuesday for the second straight game. That move, though, won’t be as permanent as moving Jason Bartlett to the top of the order.
Maddon wanted to give designated hitter Pat Burrell another day off. Maddon said Burrell could be back in the lineup Wednesday night when the Rays finish this nine-game homestand against the Red Sox.
“If not, for sure when we get to Seattle,” he added.
Maddon did say that Aybar can expect more playing time.
“I want to get Burrell going, but I want to get Willy involved,” Maddon said. “Willy may have to play some second base and Zorilla may have to play some outfield, too, to get the appropriate pieces in there. We’ve said all along that we have a good offensive club, and it started that way, but then it hit a little snag. Let’s see if we can get things going again, and I think getting Willy involved may help that.”
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Burrell took small-ball batting practice before the game and talked some hitting with Maddon.
The DH, who makes $7 million this year and $9 million next year, is batting .226 with seven home runs, 38 RBIs and a .363 slugging percentage.
Maddon said Burrell will remain the designated hitter, but needs to fix a few flaws in his swing.
“The biggest thing we’ve been talking about is the way he starts his swing, actually,” Maddon said. “It’s nothing really complicated. Sometimes you often hear hitting coaches talk about a variety of different things, and I just think the way he’s getting started was impacting his production. If you look at him, you’re not going to see a discernable difference, I promise you. When you ask major league players to make adjustments it’s so minute most of the time because they’re pretty accomplished (hitters), so we just talked about some things, didn’t really change a lot. It’s talking. It’s getting to understand what he had been doing, these little different things and see if it works.