ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- White ball, white roof, look out below.
It’s an occupational hazard of playing in Tropicana Field, and it was a topic, David Ortiz said, that came up during the team’s pregame meeting held to go over their scouting report on the Tampa Bay Rays.
Talking about it and experiencing it are two altogether different matters, though, as the Sox learned to their detriment Tuesday night, when their failure to catch Matt Joyce’s infield dome ball in the fourth inning led to a tie-breaking, two-run single in a 5-3 Red Sox loss to the Rays.
"We benefitted from the roof again tonight, how about that?" Rays manager Joe Maddon said, not so much gloating as marveling at the unexpected advantages that can derive from playing here. “And for that ball to hit the ground and stay fair is pretty incredible."
Red Sox pitcher John Lackey already had allowed the Rays to tie the score in the fourth on a checked-swing double by Luke Scott and a two-run single by Jose Molina, his former batterymate in Anaheim who had been 0-for-11 against Lackey until his two singles off the Sox right-hander Tuesday.
There were runners on second and third when Joyce launched his popup, a towering fly that drifted among the catwalks and cables that make The Trop an adventure, especially for visiting teams. The ball was just inside the first-base foul line, about three quarters of the way down the line. First baseman Mike Napoli was the player in best position to make the catch, but second baseman Dustin Pedroia contended later that the play should have been made by him.
“It was up there for awhile," Pedroia said. “I’ve played a lot of games at this field. I ran to it, took my eye off it, tried to find it again. I couldn’t find it. It’s probably an easier play for me than Nap because a left-handed hitter hit it and I had a better angle. I just took my eye off it. I knew better than to do that. I lost it and it just drops.
“He hasn’t played that many games in the field here. I’ve played a lot. It’s my responsibility in those situations to help him out and catch the ball," he said.
Napoli refused to allow Pedroia to take him off the hook. He said he has played first base here before, so he wasn’t using that as an excuse. His excuse basket, in fact, was empty.
“I didn’t make the play," he said. “I saw it up. I saw it, and overran it. My first read was stay back, then I started running in and overran it.
“I played here before? [First base?] Yeah, yeah. It’s a white roof, I saw the ball and I overran it."
The onus was not on Pedroia, Napoli insisted.
“That’s a long way for him to run," Napoli said. “The play should have been made and I didn’t. I kind of feel bad. John is out there, makes a pitch, gets the guy to pop up. He probably would have pitched a little longer."
Even after the ball fell, Pedroia surrounded it rather than pick it up, in hopes that it would roll foul. That never occurred to Joyce, he said. “That was really smart," he said. “I didn’t really think of that. I was just excited that I got a couple of ribbies and we took the lead."
The ball died on the dirt, a half-foot or so from going foul.
“We needed the wind to blow or something," Pedroia said, knowing that breezes are in short supply in a dome.
“It is tough," Napoli said. “We’re trying to turn things around. A big play, I didn’t make it."