Take what they give you, is how Matt Joyce described his rather interesting night at the plate Wednesday. Nobody covering third because of the over-shift? Bunt for a hit up the third base line. A fastball right over the heart of the plate? Crush it. Joyce did both in span of two at-bats – his only two at-bats – and both were huge moments in the Tampa Bay Rays first victory of the season.
The bunt started a rally and the home run ended the game, as the Rays beat the Baltimore Orioles 8-7 on Joyce's walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth inning in front of 15,599 thoroughly entertained fans at Tropicana Field. “It's crazy,” Joyce said. “I guess they say everything happens for a reason. To get the first win out of the way, to have it in dramatic fashion kind of seems to be the Rays Way of doing things.” The Rays trailed 3-0 after the first inning, 4-0 in the middle of the sixth inning and 5-4 in the middle of the seventh inning. They took a 7-5 lead into the eighth inning only to see Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney give it away. Rodney, making his first appearance of the season, blew his first save since Aug. 18 of last year. He allowed his first run since that night, too, snapping a streak of 19 straight scoreless appearances. A leadoff walk to Nolan Reimold and a double to left field by Baltimore's No. 9 hitter Brian Roberts tied the score at 7-7 and prevented Rodney from firing his first imaginary arrow of the season. “Brian Roberts hitting ninth, come on?” Maddon said. Roberts moved to third on a sacrifice bunt, but Rodney kept him there by getting the next batters to ground out to Yunel Escobar at shortstop, the first with the infield playing in. “You can't overlook that,” Maddon said. (He) kept it tied. Gave us a chance to win.” That set the stage for Joyce, who led off the bottom of the ninth and homered on the second pitch from Baltimore's Tommy Hunter. “I left the pitch in the middle (of the plate),” Hunter said. “He put a good swing on it. It was just a non-executed pitch.” It was the first walk-off hit of any kind for Joyce, and the first against the Orioles since Sept. 23, 2011. “Great way to start the season,” Joyce said. He entered the game in the seventh as a pinch-hitter for Jose Lobaton. With one-out and no one on, the Orioles infield defense shifted to the right side, leaving no one covering third base. “In that situation I'm just trying to get on base and play the game,” Joyce said. “Joe always talks about playing the game and taking what they give you. In that situation, that's all I try to do.” Joyce worked on his bunting this spring to combat such situations. “Mickey [Mantle] used to do that stuff,” Maddon said of Joyce's bunt and his blast. “The combination of speed and power – Mickey Joyce. I loved that. I loved all of that.” Joyce easily reached first base. He then hustled to third on Kelly Johnson's single and scored on a wild pitch. Johnson scored on a pinch-hit double to left field by James Loney, the third pinch-hitter used that inning by Maddon. Ben Zobrist drove Loney home with a single. The two-run eighth inning lead usually means a win for the Rays, at least it did last year. But for the second time in as many games this season, the Rays bullpen couldn't make it stand. Rodney's blown save simply added to Wednesday's excitement, which included a three-run homer by Shelley Duncan to cap a four-run, sixth inning rally. Maddon said he actually thought of pinch-hitting Joyce at that moment, but knew Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter would counter by bringing in the left-handed Brian Matusz. So Maddon allowed the right-handed Duncan to face the right-handed Luis Ayala because he liked that match-up better than Joyce vs. Matusz. It worked out all the way around for the Rays. Maddon said it was a good way for the Rays to earn their first win of the season. “To do that and to baptize all the new guys within the locker room with the way we celebrate postgame could not have been better to really break everyone in with all the different facets of being a Ray,” Maddon said. “It was wild, the win. Everybody was involved.”