Gonzalez homers, but Dodgers sink
Left fielder hits milestone blast as Interleague Play ends
ST. PETERSBURG -- Luis Gonzalez has a lot of fond memories here.
A Tampa native, he always seems to play well at Tropicana Field. Entering Sunday, he was a career .295 hitter and had poked nine of his 18 hits for extra bases.
The 39-year-old also holds the distinction of having hit the first home run at the ballpark, as a member of the visiting Detroit Tigers on Opening Day 1998.
Now with the Dodgers, Gonzalez came into the most recent three-game series with gusto, and tripled, homered and collected two RBIs in Friday's opener. After a day of rest on Saturday, he decided not to leave his hometown before making a splash.
During a 9-4 loss to the Rays on Sunday, Los Angeles' left fielder became the first player to hit a ball into the Rays Touch Tank, a 35-foot, 10,000-gallon aquarium filled with live cownose rays and located just beyond the right-center-field fence.
Perhaps it was witnessing the only splashdown since the Rays opened the tank July 21, 2006. Maybe it was in appreciation of the hometown guy. Or maybe to recognize the fact that the homer was the 335th of Gonzalez's career, moving him into third place all-time for left fielders. For whatever the reason, the crowd of 18,248 didn't seem to mind that the feat put the Rays in a 2-0 hole right off the bat -- they broke into raucous applause all the same.
"At least I didn't kill a devil ray out there," said Gonzalez. "I don't want to have any activists calling me. Someone was yelling that out in the stands and I was a little worried, because I don't want to be associated with something like that."
He felt so good about of the feat that put him ahead of Babe Ruth and just behind Barry Bonds and Ted Williams for most career long balls at his position that he added to his day with a third-inning double.
"I'm kind of a historian of the game and I love the old-school guys that have played this game," Gonzalez said. "It's kind of cool, because who would've thought a small kid from this part of town would make it to the Major Leagues and be playing as long as I have?
"I'm thankful for what I have ... and it's kind of ironic that I did it here at home."
Gonzalez's two-run boost lasted until the fourth, when Tampa Bay touched southpaw starter Hong-Chih Kuo for the tying score off of a pair of singles surrounding a walk.
To his credit, Kuo had turned a complete 180 from his last start, an outing in which he yielded eight runs at Toronto in just 1 2/3 innings. That, coupled with the fact that he was pitching on just three days' rest, made his 5 1/3-inning, four-hit effort all that much more impressive.
Manager Grady Little called it a nice step forward for Kuo.
"I just try to get better each time out," said Kuo, who said he threw more curveballs during this outing than he had in the past.
Unfortunately, Kuo's presence didn't linger as long as he might have liked. He fanned eight before turning over the ball to Rudy Seanez with a man on second in the sixth.
The next hitter, Ty Wigginton, singled in the eventual game-winner and then advanced to third when catcher Mike Lieberthal fumbled the throw home. He scored one out later on a Seanez wild pitch.
Things fell apart shortly after, with the Rays plating five in the seventh off of Joe Beimel, who didn't record an out before Brett Tomko relieved him. Tomko, in turn, gave way to Mark Hendrickson, who fended off the Rays for a scoreless eighth.
The 6-foot-9 lefty pitched for Tampa Bay in the first half of last season, and drew a smattering of applause as a result.
The Dodgers rallied for two runs in the ninth when James Loney homered with Gonzalez on base, but the last stand was cut short when pitcher Jason Hammel struck out the last two hitters.
"It just seemed like nothing was going our way in the early part of that ballgame," Little said. "The game was tied, we went to our bullpen. They've been making pitches all year long. Today, they didn't make the pitches."
Little didn't hesitate when asked if he was happy Sunday was the last day of Interleague Play, during which his team went 5-10.
"Yes," he said.
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.