ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—Cliff Floyd doesn't care if some think he's crazy for thinking about a World Series matchup that would be too surreal for most rational people to contemplate.
Before he homered Tuesday night to help Tampa Bay beat the Cubs, his former team, 3-2 in the opener of their three-game interleague series, Floyd was dreaming of a classic October showdown between two franchises synonymous for losing.
"But you know how baseball is. Funny game. One good stretch here, then one bad stretch and you're back to wondering what the heck is going to happen."
If Tuesday night's game was any indication, a Cubs-Rays Series would be interesting to say the least. Evan Longoria's first-pitch home run off Neal Cotts gave Tampa Bay the lead in the sixth, and Rays closer Troy Percival survived a ninth-inning rally to post his 16th save, stranding the tying run on third.
After Mark DeRosa singled with one out and pinch-hitter Kosuke Fukudome stroked an opposite-field double to left, the Cubs pulled to within a run on a passed ball by Dioner Navarro on an 0-2 pitch to Micah Hoffpauir. Fukudome advanced to third with the tying run, but Percival struck out Hoffpauir for the second out.
The Rays escaped when a 1-0 pitch to Jim Edmonds sailed to the backstop, but Navarro recovered it in time to keep Fukudome at third.
"I decided if I do go it's a close play, so I decided not to go," Fukudome said. "I was prepared to go on a passed ball or wild pitch, but the ball came right back at him."
Piniella didn't fault Fukudome for being cautious.
"It came back to [Navarro] quickly, so I think he made the right play staying at third base," he said.
Edmonds walked and then Reed Johnson tried to pull off a surprise on the first pitch to him. His bunt was well placed, but Longoria made a bare-handed pickup at third and first baseman Willie Aybar corralled a one-hop throw for the final out.
"The kid bare-handed it and the first baseman made a nice catch on a hop," Piniella said. "Exciting game."
Johnson said he thought Rays manager Joe Maddon was trying to get Longoria's attention to play closer.
"He already started back, so I just want to get in the box and lay the bunt down," Johnson said. "I knew he was going to throw me a first-pitch fastball … so I knew it would be a good opportunity for me to do it. It's something I've done in the past. They haven't seen it much here in Chicago because they really haven't given me the opportunity. Most teams have taken it away from me. He gave the bunt to me, and I figured it was a good play if I got it in a good area. I guess [Longoria] made a really good play."
Johnson's overaggressiveness on the bases cost the Cubs earlier when he was thrown out trying to steal third with two outs, ending the seventh inning with the Cubs down 2-1.
"Bad play on my part," Johnson said.