ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – This popup took a bad hop.
Jason Kubel's two-out pop clanked off a catwalk high above Tropicana Field and fell behind the pitcher's mound for a go-ahead single in the ninth inning, a true dome run that sent the Minnesota Twins past the Tampa Bay Rays 8-6 Thursday.
"I'll take it," Kubel said. "Get a run in, that's all that matters. Anyway it works. I'm happy with that."
After the Rays scored six times in the eighth, capped by pinch-hitter Jason Bartlett's grand slam that made it 6-all, the Twins rallied in most unusual fashion.
Minnesota put runners at the corners and Kubel lofted his pop. Tampa Bay second baseman Reid Brignac and shortstop Bartlett backed up and got in position to catch the ball, but it struck the highest metal catwalk — about 190 feet over the field — and changed direction.
No Rays fielder could recover in time to catch the ball before it landed 15 feet behind the mound.
"At the last second, at the top, it hit the catwalk and dropped straight down," Bartlett said. "Reid and I were both at the edge of the dirt right when it hit so I don't think anybody had a chance."
By rule, the ball was in play and there were no arguments or discussions. More than 100 balls have hit the four catwalks since the ballpark opened in 1998, but only once before had one struck the highest "A'' ring — Carlos Pena did it in a Twins' victory on May 31, 2009. Minnesota pitcher Jose Mijares caught that popup and toppled onto his stomach.
"It's just one of those things," Brignac said. "It's part of our home stadium and we've got to deal with it."
The odd ball that fell fair dropped the Rays out of a first-place tie with the idle New York Yankees in the AL East. Tampa Bay has lost only three times in its last 13 games, including a 13-inning, 2-1 loss to Minnesota on Wednesday night.
"It pretty much can't happen any place but here," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I know it works both ways but to lose a game in a pennant situation like that because of a roof indicates why there's a crying need for a new ballpark."
For the Twins, it was a bit of catwalk revenge.
Tampa Bay beat the Twins 4-3 in 10 innings on May 2, 2007, as Pena started the winning rally with an infield single that struck the second-highest "B'' ring.
The next day a mannequin in a Twins uniform was placed near where Pena's ball hit.
"It was pretty entertaining to them," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They got us a couple years ago, today it turned out our way. I'm thankful for that today. I'll take it. I kind of like it right now."
Jason Repko opened the ninth with a double and scored from third on Kubel's hit.
"I came in and touched home, looked back and I saw Bartlett sprinting in and I didn't know what was going on," Repko said. "That's part of this field."
This win kept the Twins, who used all sorts of strange bounces to win during nearly three decades at the old Metrodome, close to AL Central-leading Chicago. Minnesota is 15-6 since the All-Star break.
"There's still a part of us that remembers what it's like to be in a dome," Twins pitcher Kevin Slowey said. "Nothing is done until it's done."
Michael Cuddyer added a more conventional RBI single off Joaquin Benoit (0-1) later in the Twins' ninth.
Matt Capps (1-0) pitched 1 1-3 innings for the win.
Slowey was dominant through seven innings, shutting out the Rays on two singles, before the eighth.
B.J. Upton hit a leadoff homer that made it 6-1 and Slowey departed with two outs and the bases loaded only to see the Minnesota bullpen implode. After Jesse Crain walked Willy Aybar to force in a run, Ron Mahay entered and gave up Bartlett's game-tying shot.
Slowey didn't allow a baserunner until Sean Rodriguez opened the fourth with a single.
Tampa Bay's Wade Davis gave up six runs and 10 hits over six innings. The Rays rookie had won his previous four starts.
Joe Mauer and Delmon Young had RBI doubles, while Jason Kubel and J.J. Hardy both drove in a run with singles off Davis as the Twins took a 4-0 lead in the first. Mauer has 17 hits in his last 30 at-bats since July 26.
Davis retired 10 in a row after Hardy's hit before giving up a solo shot to Repko in the fifth that made it 5-0. The Twins went ahead 6-0 on Drew Butera's RBI double in the sixth.
NOTES: Mauer was the DH for the third straight game, but could catch this weekend. Mauer, who had a cortisone shot in his right shoulder last Saturday and didn't play Sunday and Monday, threw before the game. "Still not quite there," Gardenhire said. ... Rays All-Star LF Carl Crawford celebrated his 29th birthday. He came within one triple of joining Ty Cobb as the only players during the modern era to have at least 100 triples and 400 stolen bases before turning 29. ... Minnesota RHP Jon Rauch was unavailable for the second straight game due an allergic reaction that produced a rash and blisters on his hands. ... Pena (right foot soreness) could return to the starting lineup on Saturday.