ST. PETERSBURG -- Postseason baseball returned to Tropicana Field on Thursday night, complete with everything you’d expect under the Rays’ domed ballpark: Dick Vitale throwing out the first pitch, yellow rally towels waving in the seats … and catwalks.
Facing Red Sox right-hander Nick Pivetta with two outs in the third inning of the Rays' 5-0 win in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, veteran designated hitter Nelson Cruz crushed a 3-1 slider deep and high. The ball clanged off the C-ring catwalk in left-center field and bounced back to the turf.
According to the Tropicana Field ground rules, any batted ball that strikes either of the two lower catwalks, lights or suspended objects in fair territory is a home run. So Cruz trotted around the bases with his 18th career postseason home run -- tied for sixth most in playoff history with Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle and Jose Altuve -- and giving the Rays a 3-0 lead.
“I had no clue what was going on,” Cruz said. “I was watching the outfielders. I was like, ‘What happened?’ Just thank God it was a homer.”
With the homer, the 41-year-old Cruz became the second-oldest player to homer in the postseason, behind 43-year-old Julio Franco, who went deep for the Braves in the 2001 NLDS and NLCS.
Cruz's blast would have easily cleared the fence without any catwalk interference, according to Statcast, as the towering fly ball was projected to travel 406 feet. The ball came off his bat at 105 mph with a 39-degree launch angle.
It was the fifth fair ball to hit the catwalks during the postseason. Evan Longoria homered off the C-ring -- which ranges from 99 feet high in center field to 146 feet behind home plate -- in Game 1 of the 2008 ALDS, B.J. Upton homered off the C-ring in Game 6 of the 2008 AL Championship Series, Willy Adames homered off the (lower) D-ring in Game 4 of the 2019 ALDS, and Toronto’s Danny Jansen homered off the D-ring in Game 2 of the 2020 AL Wild Card Series.
“Obviously, that’s always a topic of discussion whenever you’re coming to play here, but I mean, that’s the ground rules,” said Red Sox second baseman Christian Arroyo, a Tampa native who played for the Rays in 2018-19. “It threw me off because I thought [left fielder Alex Verdugo] was camped under it, and then I saw the ball bounce, and then I saw Nelson Cruz jogging, so I was really, really confused. But it is what it is.”
The moment may have confused Arroyo and the 17-year veteran Cruz, not to mention a handful of Red Sox and plenty of fans watching from afar, but it comes with the territory at Tropicana Field. Welcome back to, as the Rays call it, Troptober.