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Friday, May 25, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Justice, Rays prevail against Tigers

ST. PETERSBURG - The Detroit Tigers hunted Rays on Sunday afternoon - two legs, two fins, it didn't matter.
Detroit starting pitcher Rick Porcello drilled Rays paper boy Ben Zobrist in the first inning, revenge for Saturday, when Detroit's baby faced Triple Crown slugger Miguel Cabrera (key word: baby) was ... NOT hit by Rays closer Fernando Rodney.
In the fourth inning Sunday, Cabrera pulverized a Jeremy Hellickson curve and became the second man (Tampa's Luis Gonzalez was the first, in 2007) to hit a baseball into the Rays Touch Tank just right of center field, scattering cownose rays 424 feet from home plate.
"The poor fish, right?" Zobrist said, grinning.
"He's going after our babies!" said smiling Rays tank staffer Sally Duggan.
Liberty and justice prevailed, as did the Rays, 3-1.
The real drama began late Saturday, in the top of the 10th of the Rays' 4-3 win, when Rodney buzzed Cabrera's tower, up and in, just before striking him out on a change-up away.
The embarrassment was too much for the world's best baseball hitter. He heckled the Rays dugout. His manager, Jim Leyland, backed up his superstar, Saturday night and, more to the point, Sunday afternoon.
There is another term for what Rodney did to Cabrera. It is called "pitching." Push the man off the plate, then give him one outside. Cabrera leads the majors with a .373 average and 81 RBIs. What does he want, anyway, the ball placed on a tee?
By the way, the 17 rays in the 10,000-gallon tank (14 cownose rays, three Southern rays) are collectively fed 10 pounds of a fish called capelin every day. There used to be 20 rays, but now there are 17. It's the economy, layoffs, I bet.
Leyland looks like a goofball. He's old school, so he knew Rodney wasn't trying to hit Cabrera in a tie game in the 10th with Prince Fielder up next. Sunday morning, Leyland said Saturday night was "history." Guess it wasn't.
It was an easy call for Leyland, given the choice between hitting Zobrist or explaining to his sensitive main man why he didn't.
I guess all of this would be more palatable if two pitchers, Alex Cobb and J.A. Happ, hadn't recently been hit in their skulls by line drives at the Trop.
I was astonished the Tigers chose Zobrist ... Gentle Ben, Bible Reading Ben ... and on a Sunday! I'm telling you, if it had been Easter, locusts would have descended on Porcello as he left the Trop.
Zobrist was peeved nonetheless. Rays manager Joe Maddon fired a salvo. He praised Cabrera's skill with the cudgel, but added, "I just wish he wouldn't cry so much."
Not that Maddon doesn't do his share of crying. But I got his point.
As for what's next, Maddon was cryptic:
"Just watch 'The Godfather.' "
The Rays and Tigers don't meet again this regular season. Just the same, if I was Leyland and Cabrera, I'd avoid toll booths and owning race horses.
Maddon did tease Cabrera, bringing in Kyle Farnsworth to face him to begin the eighth, despite Cabrera's ridiculous success against Farnsworth (7-for-16). But Joel Peralta was already warming in the bullpen. What else could Farnsworth be there for except to drill Cabrera? His first few pitches were inside. Cabrera eventually lined out.
And now back to Rhinoptera Bonasus, which is not a name from "The Godfather" (but could be). It is another name for cownose rays.
"It was a huge splash," said Rays tank worker Brittany Capra.
Fortunately, most of the rays were in one corner, presumably talking about Wil Myers. No ray was injured by Cabrera's 25th homer.
It's one thing to throw at Zo, but when you take aim at happy, splashing rays, you're walkin' on the fightin' side of me.
And then there was Dylan Steusloff, 19, of Bradenton, who was at Sunday's game with his family. Dylan was sitting in Section 150, in a seat right next to the rays tank, when Cabrera's big fly arrived. Dylan reached under the tank's side netting and grabbed the baseball as it bobbed in the water.
"I had just come back from the bathroom," he said. "I didn't know who hit it. I didn't even know if it was a Rays ball or a Detroit ball."
It was a Cabrera ball. And it barely missed the littlest rays of all. "Now it's personal," he said.
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