Tropicana Field turns into nightmare for Tigers OFs

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

St. Petersburg, Fla. — So many people in the Tampa Bay area want a new ballpark for the hometown Rays.

So do most of the visiting big-league teams.

It can be a miserable place to play, Tropicana Field, especially for outfielders who must sort through the off-white ugliness of an overhead canopy laced with metal rings, catwalks, and steel suspensions and somehow track a baseball’s flight path.

The Tigers got caught not only by Tropicana’s visual confusion Wednesday, but also by some audio interruptions during a dizzying game that finally was won by the Rays, 8-7.

“It’s tough for anybody to come in here and play in this place,” said Jordan Zimmermann, the Tigers starter who was pitching when a couple of fly balls that should have been sure outs turned into hits worthy of eye-rolls.

In the first inning, center fielder JaCoby Jones and right fielder Tyler Collins converged on a lazy fly swatted by leadoff batter Corey Dickerson. Neither player seemed sure who was in charge and the ball thumped to the turf for a double.

Third inning, two out: Brad Miller hit a soft fly to short right-center. Ian Kinsler, playing second base, could have caught the ball, but he waved it off, believing Jones was headed for a manageable catch. The ball fell for a single.

It turns out Rays fans were working as allies with the Rays hitters.

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“Unfortunately, the source of confusion,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said, “was coming from the stands as someone was yelling: ‘I got it.’

“That’s why Kinsler went out, acting like he had it. But then he backed off when he heard someone say they had it — and priority goes to the outfield.

“But it wasn’t the outfielders who called it.”

Ausmus said the same fan interference had caused Jones and Collins to botch Dickerson’s leadoff pop-fly in the first.

“It was coming from the stands,” Ausmus said. “So we had to change our signals. Then, the fans didn’t cause any more confusion.”

Tough night

If any Tigers pitcher Wednesday deserved a different outcome and a victory Wednesday night, nominees included Zimmermann and reliever Justin Wilson.

Wilson had a brilliant eighth, striking out all three Rays hitters.

Zimmermann had somehow survived the fall-in fly balls, as well as a Kevin Kiermaier bunt in the first inning that hugged the third-base chalk line almost in conspiratorial fashion for a single. It was followed by a slow-motion infield single from Evan Longoria, which was worth a RBI and a 1-0 Rays lead.

Still, thanks to a double play, Zimmermann got through the first allowing the lone run, while throwing only 17 pitches.

He made it through six innings. He had lasted deeper into the game than Rays starter Chris Archer, whose fastball-slider mix was devastating early and helped the Rays take a 5-1 lead that ultimately didn’t last.

Zimmermann’s work was, at least, worthwhile.

“He didn’t get a lot of help with those balls dropping in the outfield,” Ausmus said. “But he was able to get through six. He was pretty good overall.”

Zimmermann’s numbers weren’t pretty — 10 hits, five earned runs, one walk, four strikeouts — but his pitches were better than his luck Wednesday. His fastball was 90-93 for the evening, with a slider Zimmermann said was the best he has thrown this season.

“I was just trying to keep it close and save the bullpen,” Zimmermann said. “They hit me around a little bit in the fourth (three runs, four hits). But I came back out, put up a couple of zeros, and kept it close.”

Homer habit

The Tigers arrived Wednesday at Tropicana Field with some potential history on the line.

They had hit at least one home run in their first 13 games of 2017. The Indians have the record with a 14-game streak at the start of 2002.

The Tigers missed by inches or feet of tying the Indians’ mark.

Nick Castellanos in the first slammed an opposite-field drive to right against Chris Archer that nearly carried out but caromed just short for a first-inning triple.

Miguel Cabrera appeared to have brushed the right-field foul pole with a drive in the fifth. It was foul and Cabrera followed with a double.

James McCann (drive to deep center field) and Victor Martinez (long fly to the track in left) were the only other Tigers to have threatened equaling a record the Indians still hold.