By now I think everyone out there knows that the Tampa Bay Rays won their home opener in dramatic walk-off fashion. Carl Crawford delivered the bases loaded double off of Mike Gonzalez and celebration ensued. He dodged Dioner Navarro’s attempt at a pie in the face and the sell-out crowd left happy. I wanted to “get the worm” and break this story, but I also wanted to celebrate at Ferg’s Sports Bar. I thought about rushing home to my keyboard, but somehow drinking and talking Rays baseball and screaming “Go Rays!” and “Yankees suck!” all night won out. It was a grand way to start the season and it was a great first look at our new guys.
It was pure excitement for me from the moment I arrived at the Trop and saw the starting line-up posted by the entry way. New addition and spring training batting king Sean Rodriguez would make his first start. He played second base and batted 8th. The rest of the line-up to start was the same as last year.
The night was kicked off by an All-Star Game style introduction of both teams. Everyone lined up in V formation and the entire Rays organization, from groundskeepers to trainers to coaches were introduced. Don Zimmer, enjoying his 62nd Opening Day received the heaviest ovation.
From there the Rays starting line-up was introduced. With every name called there was a burst of blue and yellow flames. It was awesome to watch, but it was a whole lot of smoke for indoors and the smoke and fog lingered throughout the entire ballgame.
After the indoors pyrotechnic display, a member of the United States military rappelled down from the cat-walk on the roof. Coming from someone deathly afraid of heights, this was amazing. After his descent he joined Admiral Eric Olson of the US Navy on the mound as he threw a strike for the ceremonial first pitch and the game started right on schedule.
James Shields delivered the first pitch of the Rays 2010 season and Brian Roberts hacked at his first offering, popping up to Carl Crawford in shallow left field. The season was underway.
Adam Jones, batting second, broke up Shields bid for a no-hitter early when he drilled a double to center, but Shields sent down Markakis to end the inning on 5 pitches.
For Baltimore new addition Kevin Millwood tamed the Rays for 5 innings, scattering 9 hits, striking out 5 and allowing 2 runs.
Ben Zobrist was the Rays first base runner, drilling a double to right, but was stranded at second when Longoria struck out to end the inning.
Both teams went hitless through the second inning and when Adam Jones came up in the third his first inning single was the only hit Shields had allowed. The young centerfielder had Shields pegged and launched a solo homerun to give the Orioles a 1-0 edge.
Luke Scott opened the third inning with a solo homerun of his own to give the O’s the 2-0 lead. Millwood shut out the Rays until the bottom of the 5th. Pat Burrell led the inning off with a double and ran threw the stop sign to score on Jason Bartlett’s two-out single reducing the Orioles lead to 2-1.
Matt Wieters, who was robbed of extra bases in the second inning by a Willie Mays-esque catch by BJ Upton drilled the O’s third solo homerun off of James Shields to lead off the 6th. Orioles 3, Rays 1.
In the bottom half of the 6th Evan Longoria unloaded on Millwood drilling a blast to left field to bring the Rays within one. This was the 3rd longest homer in Tropicana Field history and may have been the longest blast I have seen in person. Wow.
Carlos Pena followed him dropping a perfect drag bunt down the third baseline for an infield single. BJ Upton followed him with a sharp single to put runners on first and second with no outs. It looked like the momentum had shifted, but wise manager Dave Trembley stopped the rally with a trip to the mound that sent Millwood to the showers in favor of Matt Albers.
Albers stopped the rally quickly. Pat Burrell grounded into a double play and Sean Rodriguez struck out to end the inning.
Adam Jones started the 7th off with an infield single. Bartlett made a beautiful play to keep the ball in the infield, but Jones reached without a throw, collecting his third hit off of Shields, leaving him a triple shy of the cycle.
That was the 9th and final hit that Shields would yield. Randy Choate entered the game and mirrored what Albers did in the top half. He struck out Markakis and got Miguel Tejada (0-5) to ground into a double play to end the inning with no damage.
Into the 8th inning, Choate sent retired Luke Scott and gave way to Lance Cormier. Choate pitched a perfect inning and a third. Cormier followed with a perfect 2/3 of an inning. It was surprising that Choate and Cormier got the call before Balfour and Wheeler, but both were perfect.
Jim Johnson took the hill for Baltimore in the bottom of the 8th and retired the Rays 4-5-6 batters in order.
The Rays new closer Rafael Soriano made his debut in the top of the 9th even though the Rays were down a run. He brought the drama with him allowing a leadoff double to Garrett Atkins and loading the bases for the Orioles new cleanup hitter Miguel Tejada who lined out to Crawford in left for the final out.
Mike Gonzalez got the call for the save opportunity and it looked academic at first. Burrell struck out swinging to bring up Sean Rodriguez, who after a dazzling spring at the plate looked uncomfortable in the batters box all night. He looked fine in the 9th and drilled a single for his first hit as a member of the Rays. This brought up the catchers spot and in a surprising move Maddon pinch hit for Navarro who was 2-3 on the night. New Ray Kelly Shoppach got the call and drilled a line drive to center. Everyone in the stands thought it was a game winning homer, but the umps called it (properly) a ground rule double. This moved Rodriguez to third for the top of the order.
With one out Gonzalez walked Bartlett (2-4) intentionally to load the bases for Carl Crawford who was hitless at that point. The Rays All Star leftfielder drilled a fastball to right field. Rodriguez scored easily and Shoppach motored home to win it in walk off fashion.
The Rays dugout emptied and dog piled on CC at second base and the sold out crowd at Tropicana Field received a treat far better than pre-game theatrics, they saw a come from behind victory from a team that refused to say die.
With his game winning double Crawford joined the rest of the lineup with a hit. Top to bottom every Rays batter had at least one hit. As it stands now the Rays are the only unbeaten team in the AL East, they are alone in first place and own a team batting average of .361.
New closer Rafael Soriano made it very interesting, but still didn’t allow a run to plate and for that he got the win.
Crawford was the hero and not with his glove or his speed. He got that mother home when it mattered and he showed his speed post game when he avoided the pie.
I could re-watch that game over and over again, but I don’t have to because they are going to do it all over again in a few hours with Matt Garza on the mound. Go Rays! ALL PHOTOS ARE COPYRIGHT TB RAYS NEWS AND MAY NOT BE REPRINTED WITHOUT PERMISSION