Baseball and Rays return to Tropicana Field four weeks early

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Baseball came early to Tropicana Field this year.

Four weeks before the the Rays’ season opener against Detroit, Tampa Bay and Minnesota took batting practice as rock music played in preparation for a spring training game Thursday inside the Rays’ home ballpark.

The Rays are spliting spring training between the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee and Tropicana Field because their own facility on Florida’s Gulf Coast was damaged by Hurricane Ian in September. After workouts and one game at Disney against the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay shifted its operations to St. Petersburg, with the rest of the home spring training games scheduled at the domed stadium.

“It feels good,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I’m excited to be here, thrilled with how Disney turned out. Hopefully, everybody has taken that mindset that it’s nice to get to spend an extra month in your ballpark, and in your own bed.”

Rays infielder David Robertson noted playing at Tropicana Field provides a “cool” opportunity for players that haven’t been in the stadium. It also gives them a chance to live a major league life at spring training.

“The guy kind of knocking on the door of the big leagues getting a feel for it,” Robertson said. “The settings, the roof, the turf. Hey, my goal is to play here at some point.”

There was a moment of silence before the game to remember those killed by Hurricane Ian.

Zach Eflin, who signed a $40 million, three-year contract with Tampa Bay as a free agent, started in front of an announced crowd of 2,531. Tickets were $19, with all the fans in box seats.

“It’s interesting,” Eflin said. “I’ve only pitched here two or three times. I know the fans show up but it was little different today, it felt like crickets. You could hear your own thoughts and stuff, but it’s spring training, it’s early.

Tampa Bay’s average home attendance in 2022 was 13,927, the major leagues’ third lowest behind Miami and Oakland.

There were a series of adjustments to get Tropicana Field ready.

The Rays are using two clubhouses for the nearly 80 players in camp. Team meals are being served in the media dining room, which is an elevator ride from the clubhouse level.

Workouts are also planned at the nearby Huggins-Stengel Field complex, where Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees and Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden of the Mets took part in spring training.

“We will make it work,” Cash said. “A lot of moving parts but confident we’ll settle in here pretty quickly.”

The stay at home allows players to get comfortable with the regular season housing instead of making the transition at spring training’s end.

“Air conditioning is amazing,” Eflin said with a smile. “I’ll never complain about that.”

There will be chances to play in the sunshine as palm trees sway during road games.

“I like Port Charlotte and being outside. Certainly like Boca Grande – there’s nice boating there afterwards,” Cash said with a smile. “But, no, we’re going to play enough at visiting ballparks to get all that in.”

Doval escapes in the 9th as Giants hold off Yanks 7-5

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NEW YORK (AP) Camillo Doval retired Giancarlo Stanton on a game-ending, double-play grounder with the bases loaded and the San Francisco Giants hung on for a 7-5 victory over the New York Yankees on Saturday.

Doval gave up Aaron Judge’s RBI single in the ninth, the slugger’s third hit, but earned his first save when Stanton hit a ground ball to shortstop Brandon Crawford, who started a double play that withstood a video review. Second baseman Thairo Estrada made a low throw to first baseman LaMonte Wade Jr., who scooped the ball.

“Live and it looked before they paused, he kept it long enough,” Crawford said of Estrada. “LaMonte was definitely on the bag. I wasn’t too worried.”

There were four pitch clock violations, the most of any game in the first three days of the new rule. Two were by Doval in the ninth inning, and the Giants’ Taylor Rogers and the Yankees’ Albert Abreu had one each.

“We didn’t see any of that sort of thing in spring training,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said. “We saw a good mastery of it. This is a different environment and it’s understandable that things sped up a little bit, but no pitcher’s going to survive giving away balls like that. It doesn’t matter how good you are.”

New York’s Anthony Volpe got his first two big league hits and became the first Yankees player to steal a base in each of his first two games since Fritz Maisel in 1913. No major leaguer had accomplished the feat since Billy Hamilton in 2013.

But the 21-year-old shortstop also had Estrada’s RBI single carom off his glove as the Giants scored twice in the sixth inning for a 5-3 lead.

New York built a 2-0 lead helped by pitcher Alex Cobb’s throwing error and Stanton’s first home run, a 112 mph drive to the opposite field down the right-field line. But the Yankees went 3 for 11 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight runs as the Giants rallied.

Joc Pederson hit a solo homer and Crawford hit a two-run drive in a three-run fourth against Clarke Schmidt, the first home run for the Giants on a 3-0 pitch since Buster Posey in the 2021 NL Division Series.

Crawford went 3 for 5 with a double and scored twice to go along with a stolen base. It was the second time in his career he a three-hit game with a double, homer, two runs scored and a steal.

“It was a good day. I guess my best game of the year so far,” Crawford said with a laugh.

Anthony Rizzo’s RBI double off Jakub Junis (1-0) tied it 3-3 in the fifth, and the Giants scored two runs in the sixth without hitting a ball out of the infield.

Wade Jr. hit a go-ahead RBI single when his soft hit went to the third base side of the mound, and David Villar scored the go-ahead run when Michael King (0-1) and catcher Jose Trevino converged and could not make a throw. King was making his return from a broken elbow last July 22.

After King struck out Michael Conforto, Estrada hit a liner to Volpe, who charged in and had the ball go off the heel of his glove. Volpe was unable to get the force at second as Crawford scored to put the Giants up 5-3.

“It was a tough one,” Volpe said. “Probably keep me up at night thinking about that. I definitely feel like I should have had it. It was on me.”

Josh Donaldson homered in the eighth off Rogers, three innings after the crowd booed Donaldson for taking a called third strike that stranded two runners.

Mike Yastrzemski added an RBI double and Crawford hit a run-scoring single in a two-run ninth off Clay Holmes.

STARTERS Schmidt allowed three runs and four hits in 3 1/3 innings. Schmidt threw a cutter that he added in the offseason 27 times, including three straight to Pederson for a strikeout in the first.

Cobb gave up two runs and four hits in 3 2/3 innings.

TRAINER’S ROOM Giants: C Joey Bart (back tightness) was a late scratch. Kapler said Bart tweaked his back in batting practice.

Yankees: RHP Luis Severino (right lat strain) threw Friday and Saturday and felt good. … OF Harrison Bader (left oblique strain) took swings in the pool Friday and Saturday and could take swings in a cage next week. … RHP Lou Trivino (right elbow strain) threw off a mound Friday.

UP NEXT New York RHP Jhony Brito makes his major league debut Sunday against San Francisco RHP Ross Stripling. — AP MLB: and