The Tampa Bay Rays fans held their breath in nervous anticipation as Carl Crawford stepped to the plate on Opening Day in the bottom of the ninth with two on base and trailing Baltimore by one. Crawford smacked a walk off double! The sellout crowd erupted in jubilation! The Rays won 4-3.
The fans also cheered for Evan Longoria’s mammoth home run in the sixth, which stretched 473 feet. Jason Bartlett went 2-for-4 with a double, a walk and an RBI.
James Shields experienced a so-so start. He pitched well for six innings except for three homers allowed to Luke Scott, Matt Wieters, and Adam Jones. Shields struck out six, walked two, and gave up nine hits. New Rays closer Rafael Soriano got the win.
Kevin Millwood started the game for Baltimore. He pitched five innings, gave up nine hits, one home run, and one walk. He had five strikeouts. Michael Gonzalez, who pitched the ninth for Baltimore, took the loss. The Rays were all over him, accumulating a walk and three hits including Crawford’s game-winning double.
If this first game is any indication of the season, it will be a memorable one. The Rays find themselves in an unusual situation; they have five extremely good starting pitchers this season. With James Shields, Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, David Price, and Wade Davis, the Rays should be competitive in the American League East. Davis is a relatively unknown commodity, but all eyes will be watching Price, who could develop into one of the greatest pitchers of all time. You may remember Price having a great showing in the playoffs two years ago out of the bullpen. He spent last year in the minors working on ball control as a starter. Fans are eager to see his stuff on the mound.
Offensively, look for a lot of run generation and base stealing from the Rays again this year. Watch for Longoria to continue his home run display. He has recovered from the pulled hamstring last year and is ready to go. Likewise, Carlos Peña has recovered from his hand injury incurred last fall, although he was wearing some added protection on his hand last night. B.J. Upton is also healthier and came back in excellent condition. He made some great catches in center. Even Pat Burrell had some good strokes at the plate.
Rays should be competitive this year in the AL East. They look strong in the all the key positions and, most importantly, look healthy. Along with Soriano — acquired from the Braves — they added catcher Kelly Shoppach from the Indians and second baseman Sean Rodriguez from the Angels.
Could the Rays be in the playoffs this year? Maybe at least the Wild Card, because they certainly have the talent.