ST. PETERSBURG — As he made his way to the bullpen to warm up for the start of Monday's Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Alex Cobb stepped out of the dugout and into an atmosphere so electric it literally gave him a jolt.
“That standing ovation I got from the fans, it really gives you an extra punch of adrenaline,” Cobb said. “I mean, everyone is tired right now, but when you hear the crowd being so into the game, it really allows you to dig deeper and find that little extra something you might not have on a normal night.''
There has been nothing normal about the past two nights at the Trop.
With the Red Sox in town for Games 3 and 4 of the ALDS, the Rays played their last two games in front of boisterous capacity crowds that created an atmosphere far different than what they're accustomed to.
The Rays ranked last in baseball in attendance this year, averaging 18,645 per game, which is 54.7 percent of capacity. They drew sellout crowds for only three regular-season games, but that has changed in the playoffs, where it's not just the size of the crowds but also the makeup of them that's different.
“Normally, just being honest, you've seen a lot of other teams' fans in the ballpark under those (soldout) circumstances,'' Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “But it definitely had a pro-Rays vibe to it (Monday) night. It was spectacular. And obviously, we'd like to see it like that more consistently, because it does matter.''
The Rays were 51-30 at Tropicana Field this season, which is impressive enough. But since 2008, they are an even more impressive 55-24 when playing in front of a Tropicana Field crowd of 30,000 or more.
“Every time it has filled up it seems to have brought out the best in us. So we love it,'' Maddon said.
Alas, there is still very little love for the Trop itself. It remains one of MLB's most criticized venues, and this series against the Red Sox has sparked a new string of digs aimed its odd collection of quirks.
Longtime baseball writer Peter Gammons, for example, wrote on Twitter on Monday that “Maybe if the Rays played in an amusement park rather than this joke they'd do better than be last in the majors in attendance.''
But not everyone sees the Trop that way.
Fox Sports and MLB baseball insider Ken Rosenthal won't call the Trop charming, but he doesn't consider it offensive, either, and he gives it mostly good reviews.
“The good thing about playing in a dome is that when you have a good crowd, it gets loud,'' he said. “And here, even when they only get 15,000, it can still get very loud with those 15,000.
“And they're always enthusiastic here, so the atmosphere is good. And actually, the Boston crowd wasn't that loud at all when we were up there (for Games 1 and 2) and it was noticeable. So to come here and see the energy, it was good.''
Moreover, the dome guarantees a game will never be rained out, and the constant 72-degree temperatures make for a comfortable playing and viewing atmosphere.
“And there's definitely a benefit to that,'' Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “As for the quirks, every ballpark is going to have its quirks, whether it's a speaker hanging above home plate or a wall in left field. Everyone that comes in here and plays a number of games is well aware there are things you have to contend with — (catwalks) in the ceiling, a different turf and dirt combination on the infield. But both teams have to play on it, so there's nothing in our minds that is a detriment to playing a game here.''