street. PETERSBURG – When you get past all the Opening Day pomp, from smoke and flashing lights, player introductions and the swarm of TV cameras in a post-club game, the circumstance is finding a way to win the game.
And the Rays did just that on Thursday, beating the Tigers 4-0 in the way they hope will carry them through the next six — or maybe seven — months.
Shane McClanahan pitched a dominant six-run start. Jose Serre gave them an early lead with a homer in the third, and they added with clutch hits by Randy Arzarena and pinch hitter Luke Raleigh in the sixth, then a homer in the eighth by Wander Franco.
Manuel Margot pitched a run-saving defensive game, an all-out run catch and a diving touchdown to snub the Tigers’ rally in the seventh. and three relievers combined to get the final nine.
“This is what we’ve been working on all spring,” said manager Kevin Cash. He later added: “Rays-like win. We’ll be signing up for those kinds of wins a lot.”
Thursday was the Rays’ 26th season starter, and they have high expectations of not only extending their run of consecutive playoff spots to five, but of winning their first championship.
“We never know what a season is going to bring, but this could be the season,” principal owner Stuart Sternberg said before the game.
The Rays would also spend a good portion of the year looking back, celebrating their first 25 seasons (or mostly their last 15), going back to their opening game, March 31, 1998, also against the Tigers.
Having James Shields, a key player and celebrity player in their remarkable 2008 transformation from cellar dwellers to contenders, the first-pitch eviction was a good way to start, greeted warmly by the boisterous Tropicana Field crowd of 25,025.
“Our fans were amazing — it was loud,” said Cash. “Whoever planned the entrances – and that gets a lot of interest in the guys – they did a really good job with it. A lot of the videos were really nice, well done. The new scoreboard looked good. So all in all, it’s just a really fun day to be a part of” .
McClanahan, USF product of his second consecutive Opening Day start, did his part, allowing six hits but not getting into much trouble, striking out six.
“He gave a lot of really good performances and gave us a start we’ll never complain about — six innings, no innings,” said Cash. “We’ll sign up for it every night.”
When it was over, after 87 relatively effective pitches, the Rays went three high-flying relievers every inning—Colin Butch (who escaped thanks to Margot’s catch), Jason Adam and Pete Fairbanks.
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The Rays’ offense is the biggest question this season, as a dramatic drop in production in 2022 and an anemic appearance resulted in Cleveland’s two-game playoff run in which they posted a single point total.
Seerey pitched that last run in 2022, with a solo homer, and did the same on his first in 2023, a 393-foot putt to Detroit’s Eduardo Rodriguez.
While Serre is mostly known for his speed and stellar defense in center field, he has the ability to hit some home runs as well — 16 last year and 20 in 2021 between Houston’s Triple-A team and big-league teams.
“I have a lot of confidence in my own strength,” he said, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “Sometimes I have to not try so much. Sometimes, I think the looser I am, the higher the ball will jump off the bat.”
The Rays believed that the depth and versatility of their lineup – a combination of power, connection hitters, pace, left and right options – would be productive enough.
“It’s no secret that we have an amazing staff,” Margot said via Navarro. “If we can get at least five home runs, we know they’ll work for us.”
With McClanahan leading 1-0, they moved up to sixth.
Yandy Diaz’s run and a single off Tiger Isaac Paredes’ single kicked off, then Arozarena reliever Jason Foley greeted with an RBI single, and Luke Raley, who made his first Opening Day roster with a solid spring, hit another.
Franco again turned it into a power play with his 402-foot putt to left center for eighth.
“There were a lot of good speculators,” Cash said. “In advance, you never know what you’re going to get on opening day. … You see some flops early on, and maybe they’re expanding a little bit just because they’re overly overpriced. But after that first time ordering through, the second time around I felt like they were likening them to Somewhat, and we were cannibalizing the big bats.”
Overall, it was a good way to start.
“Absolutely,” Bush said. “Raise Standard Jamila wins. I think we’ll see a lot of those this year.”
The Tampa Bay Rays take on the Detroit Tigers, their opponent of 25 years ago, in their opening game at Tropicana Field. Former Rays player James Shields threw the ceremonial first pitch to start the Rays’ 26 season.
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