The baseball season is finally here, and the Rays capped off the festivities with a fairly perfect opening-day victory over the Detroit Tigers. The opening-day lineup for the home team looked like the one that most had predicted; Diaz, Brandon Lowe, Franco, and Paredes in the infield, with Arozarena, Siri, and Margot in the outfield. The only position that had some question marks was over whether Mejia or Bethancourt would start behind the plate, but ultimately the Panamanian got the nod. The Rays’ roster this season looks more like a traditional setup this year. Whether or not there will be as much platoon hitting as in years past remains yet to be seen.
As ever, the pitching for the Rays was fantastic. Early on in the game, Shane McClanahan gave up a solitary hit in each of the first three innings. After that, however, he only gave up one more hit in the next three, making light work of the Detroit Tigers lineup, except for Austin Meadows, who was by far their most productive hitter in the game. By this time, the Rays had taken a 1-0 lead, thanks to a Jose Siri home run in the bottom of the 3rd. Not many would have bet on him grabbing the first home run of the season – if you had, then you would’ve gotten a nice return.
The next bit of scoring for the Rays wouldn’t come until the 6th. A walk for Diaz and a single by Paredes led to a pitching change for the Tigers, replacing starter Eduardo Rodriguez with Jason Foley. Three pitches into his stint on the mound, Randy Arozarena drove a line drive into center field, which allowed Taylor Walls (pinch running for Diaz) to score. Cue the folded arms.
After coming off a strong spring training, Luke Raley lined another single through a gap in the Tigers’ infield, which allowed Paredes to touch home plate. 3-0 Rays. Colin Poche came in for McClanahan for the seventh inning. After getting into a bit of trouble with one out to go, Manny Margot produced a spectacular grab to end the inning. Writing about the play doesn’t really do it justice. Really it has to be watched to be appreciated:
After this, it was fairly smooth sailing for the Rays, who bought on arguably their best two relievers, Jason Adam and Pete Fairbanks, to close out the game in the final two innings. A Wander Franco home run in the 8th to make it 4-0 was the cherry on top.
Overall, it was a pretty perfect game to start the season for the Rays. Fantastic defense and pitching, no errors, a couple of home runs, and a shutout. Even against the Tigers, who aren’t expected to make the playoffs this season, the Rays group showed a lot of promise. Most pleasing of all, though, was how the Tampa Bay Rays’ victory felt. Everything was completely on brand and completely what was hoped for. Fantastic defense and pitching to get the shutout, with *just* enough offense to make the game comfortable. The Rays aren’t going to blow away many teams this year but will rather grind out victories through the defensive side of the game. “A very Rays-like win,” Kevin Cash told reporters after the game. He’s spot on. Perfect so far… but let’s not talk about the banner that was unveiled at the start of the game.