Rays senior baseball treasure Don Zimmer, 83, who isn’t feeling well these days, entered the field on a golf cart during pregame introductions. It was touching. Rays starting pitcher David Price interrupted his warm-up to embrace Zimmer near the bullpen. Rays manager Joe Maddon and his starting lineup did the same, one by one, as they jogged from the home dugout to the first base foul line.
How do you top that?
The road to 162-0 began Monday afternoon at the Trop as the Rays thrashed the Toronto Blue Jays 9-2. A sellout crowd watched, some of them from the new 360-degree walkway that now surrounds the lower deck.
They saw a Rays 360 experience.
OK, let’s get a grip.
Stop planning the parade route.
No one goes 162-0.
The Rays, they’ll be lucky to go 150-12.
The first pitch of the game was strike thrown by Price, who once upon a time was a lock for ex-Ray. From sayonara to Cy Young. For the first out, Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings made a diving catch in short right center. The final out in the top of the first inning was Price fanning Jays slugger Jose Bautista.
Yes, Price made a rousing Remember Me? statement – seven plus innings for his first Opening Day win. He threw a six-pitch sixth. He threw a seven-pitch seventh. He gave up a two-run homer in the eighth, but after all the offseason rumors, it was already a large day.
“Very meaningful,” Price said.
What didn’t go right Monday?
It couldn’t have gone better if St. Pete mayor Rick Kriseman walked onto the field holding a Tampa stadium plan.
He did not.
Meanwhile, Wil Myers’ crusade against the sophomore jinx began furiously against Jays knuckleball starter R.A. Dickey. In the bottom of the first, Myers doubled off the wall in right center and scored on Evan Longoria’s single. In the second, Myers drove in two runs with a single of his own.
Matt Joyce, first man up in the great rotating DH experiment, drove in three runs with a double and a sacrifice fly.
How could Monday have gone better?
“Obviously, everyone could all have hit a home run,” Joyce said with a grin. “But for us, that’s exactly how we wanted to start. We wanted to swing the bats well and we did a great job of taking what they gave us. And obviously Price. He’s Cy Young for a reason.”
I’m telling you, if Jose Molina had legged out a triple, the cops would have busted in and shut this whole thing down.
True, it came against the Jays, who once again are off and underachieving. Dickey got knocked around. Shortstop Jose Reyes, who played only 93 games for Toronto last season, left in the middle of the first. Hamstring. MRI today. When’s the Maple Leafs next game?
Despite the new fangled Rays offense, which produced 11 hits, the lads did provide a signature run. In the third, Longoria walked, went to second on a groundout to the pitcher, reached third by wild pitch and came home on Joyce’s sac fly. One run, no hits. Old time Rays religion.
Jennings had a big day. Two hits, two runs. And there was that catch to start the party.
“First play of the game, Desmond makes a diving play and it really set the tone,” Myers said.
And there was the punch line. In the bottom of the eighth. Myers hit a high chop to third – and scored. Two Toronto errors, one on the throw from third, another on the throw from right. Brandon Guyer scored, and then so did young Wil, touching them on an infield hit.
“I’m a little tired,” Myers said. “Never done that before in professional baseball. That was a first.”
Really, how could it have gone better?
“I can’t imagine, except that Zim would have walked to home plate,” Maddon said. “That would have been about as good as it gets right there.”
If only ...
But this wasn’t bad.
OK, 155-7, tops.