For openers: Our ranking of the Rays’ first 20 opening-day games

You always remember your first time, and this was the Devil Rays taking the field for the 1998 inaugural game. [Times files]
You always remember your first time, and this was the Devil Rays taking the field for the 1998 inaugural game. [Times files]
Published March 29 2018
Updated March 29 2018

Times baseball writer Marc Topkin is the only media member to have attended all 20 of the Rays' season openers, which included being in Japan in 2004. Here is his ranking from the most to least memorable (with recaps provided by the Rays PR department):

1. 1998, 11-6 loss to Tigers

You always remember your first one, right? Good, bad or both, this was history.

RECAP: Wilson Álvarez threw the first pitch in Rays history (a ball to Brian Hunter) and retired the side in order in the first inning. … However, nine of the next 13 Tigers batters reached base safely, and the Rays fell behind 11-0 by the fifth. .. .Wade Boggs hit a two-run homer off Justin Thompson in the sixth to account for the first two runs in franchise history … The Rays rallied for four runs in the ninth but ended the game by stranding the bases loaded.

LINEUP

CF Quinton McCracken
2B Miguel Cairo
3B Wade Boggs
1B Fred McGriff
LF Mike Kelly
DH Paul Sorrento
C John Flaherty
RF Dave Martinez
SS Kevin Stocker
P Wilson Álvarez

2. 2004, 8-3 win over Yankees in Tokyo

What happened on the field was secondary to the adventure and the scene at the Tokyo Dome, but it was a pretty good game, too, plus people packed the Trop to watch.

RECAP: In a game that started at 6:14 a.m. ET, the Rays opened the major-league season at the Tokyo Dome in Japan. …Tino Martinez singled, doubled and homered for the Rays and José Cruz Jr. homered. … The Rays went ahead in the sixth inning on back-to-back doubles by Martinez and Julio Lugo. … Victor Zambrano allowed a two-run homer to Jason Giambi in the first, but Zambrano, Lance Carter and Danys Baez held the Yankees to one run on four hits over their final eight innings pitched before a crowd of 55,000.

The Yankees’ Kenny Lofton is safe at the plate as Devil Rays catcher Toby Hall holds up the ball during the third inning. [Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images]

LINEUP:
LF Carl Crawford
3B Damian Rolls
CF Rocco Baldelli
DH Aubrey Huff
RF José Cruz Jr.
1B Tino Martinez
SS Julio Lugo
C Toby Hall
2B Rey Sánchez
P Victor Zambrano
3. 2003, 6-4 win over Red Sox

It was the first game of the Lou Piniella era, and Rays LF Carl Crawford got it started with a memorable bang.

RECAP: Carl Crawford's two-out, two-strike, three-run walk-off homer off Chad Fox in the ninth inning gave the Rays a 6-4 win. … It was the eighth walk-off homer on Opening Day in AL history. … Seth McClung recorded the win in his major-league debut. … The Rays trailed 4-0 entering the seventh and 4-1 entering the ninth. … Terry Shumpert became the fourth Ray to homer in his first at-bat with the team, a two-run, pinch-hit homer in the ninth that brought the Rays to within 4-3.

Carl Crawford follows the flight of his three-run, game-winning home run off Boston Red Sox pitcher Chad Fox. [AP Photo/Chris O’Meara]

LINEUP:

LF Carl Crawford
CF Rocco Baldelli
3B Aubrey Huff
1B Travis Lee
DH Al Martin
RF Ben Grieve
C Toby Hall
2B Brent Abernathy
SS Rey Ordoñez
P Joe Kennedy

4. 2006, 9-6 loss at Orioles

Joe Maddon had his mom, Beanie, and plenty of other friends and relatives from Hazleton, Pa., in the stands for his first game as manager and it was a rough start.

RECAP: 22-year-old Scott Kazmir became the youngest opening day starting pitcher since Dwight Gooden in 1986 but yielded home runs to Luis Matos, Miguel Tejada and Melvin Mora over four IP and took the loss. … The Rays used three shortstops as Julio Lugo (abdominal muscle) and Luis Ordaz (knee) were both injured. … The Rays led 4-3 in the fifth inning before Matos and Mora hit back-to-back homers to lead off the bottom half of the frame.

Scott Kazmir delivers a pitch against the Orioles on opening day in 2006 in Baltimore. [Photo By Nick Wass/Getty Images]

LINEUP:
SS Julio Lugo
LF Carl Crawford
2B Jorge Cantú
3B Aubrey Huff
DH Jonny Gomes
1B Travis Lee
C Toby Hall
RF Damon Hollins
CF Joey Gathright
P Scott Kazmir

5. 2000, 7-0 win at Twins

The much-hyped Hit Show started well for the Devil Rays, but it went downhill fast from there.

RECAP: Gerald Williams hit the first pitch of the season for a home run off Brad Radke as the Rays recorded their first-ever opening day win. … Steve Trachsel (7-IP, 5-H, 0-BB, 7-SO) got his first AL win and Fred McGriff hit a grand slam, the Rays' first on opening day.

Fred McGriff watches his fifth-inning grand slam fly over the fence. [Times files]

LINEUP:

CF Gerald Williams
RF Dave Martinez
DH José Canseco
1B Fred McGriff
LF Greg Vaughn
3B Herbert Perry
C John Flaherty
SS Kevin Stocker
2B Miguel Cairo
P Steve Trachsel

6. 2012, 7-6 win over Yankees

The Rays came in with high expectations after making the playoffs three of the previous four years and walked off in celebration after beating one of the game's all-time best.

RECAP: The Rays scored twice in the ninth inning off Mariano Rivera for their third walk-off win on Opening Day. … Prior to that game, Rivera was 60-of-61 in career save opportunities against the Rays. … Carlos Peña's 1-out single in the ninth scored Ben Zobrist, who had tripled in the game-tying run. … Peña hit a grand slam off CC Sabathia in the first, the Rays' second on opening day.

Ben Zobrist is met at the plate after scoring the winning run on a Carlos Pena single off Mariano Rivera. [Times files]
Ben Zobrist is met at the plate after scoring the winning run on a Carlos Pena single off Mariano Rivera. [Times files]
LINEUP:

CF Desmond Jennings
RF Ben Zobrist
3B Evan Longoria
DH Jeff Keppinger
SS Sean Rodríguez
1B Carlos Peña
2B Elliot Johnson
C José Molina
LF Matt Joyce
P James Shields

7. 2010, 4-3 win over Orioles

The Rays had plenty to celebrate with a walkoff win.

RECAP:  Carl Crawford's one-out, two-run double in the ninth inning off Mike Gonzalez gave the Rays their second walk-off win on opening day. … To set up Crawford's heroics, Sean Rodríguez hit a one-out single, Kelly Shoppach doubled in his first plate appearance as a Ray and Jason Bartlett received his only intentional walk of the season. … Previously, Evan Longoria blasted a sixth-inning, 473-foot homer off Kevin Millwood to bring the Rays to within 3-2.

Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, left, watches as Carl Crawford knocks in two runs off Baltimore closer Mike Gonzalez during the ninth inning. [AP Photo/Steve Nesius]

LINEUP:
SS Jason Bartlett
LF Carl Crawford
RF Ben Zobrist
3B Evan Longoria
1B Carlos Peña
CF Melvin Upton Jr.
DH Pat Burrell
2B Sean Rodríguez
C Dioner Navarro
P James Shields

8. 2015, 6-2 loss to Orioles

There was a lot of change for the Rays, including Tampa native Kevin Cash taking over for Joe Maddon as manager, with his family gathered at the Trop to mark the occasion.

RECAP: The Rays' starting lineup included only two players playing the same position as the opening day starting lineup a year prior (3B Evan Longoria, 1B James Loney). … Rays pitchers had 11 strikeouts, a club record for opening day at the time. … Chris Archer yielded an unearned run in the first and a pair of solo homers (5th, 6th innings). … Longoria hit his third career opening day home run, passing Ben Zobrist and Gerald Williams for the club record.

Evan Longoria (3) high-fives Rays third-base coach Charlie Montoyo (24) on his way to home plate after hitting a home run in the seventh inning. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]
Evan Longoria (3) high-fives Rays third-base coach Charlie Montoyo (24) on his way to home plate after hitting a home run in the seventh inning. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]
LINEUP:
DH John Jaso
RF Steven Souza Jr.
SS Asdrúbal Cabrera
3B Evan Longoria
1B James Loney
LF Desmond Jennings
C René Rivera
2B Logan Forsythe
CF Kevin Kiermaier
P Chris Archer

9.  2009, 5-3 loss at Red Sox

The highly anticipated defense of the 2008 AL pennant didn't start well for the Rays with a rainout and then a rough loss.

RECAP:  After a rainout the day prior, the Rays and Red Sox opened the season—169 days after the Rays beat Boston in Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS. … Dustin Pedroia and Jason Varitek hit solo homers off James Shields, the latter knocking the Rays starter out in the sixth inning. … Red Sox starter Josh Beckett recorded 10 strikeouts and only allowed two hits over seven IP.

Josh Beckett kept the Rays honest during the Red Sox’s opening-day win in 2009. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]

LINEUP:
2B Akinora Iwamura
LF Carl Crawford
3B Evan Longoria
1B Carlos Peña
DH Pat Burrell
CF Matt Joyce
C Dioner Navarro
RF Gabe Gross
SS Jason Bartlett
P James Shields

10. 2002, 9-5 win over Tigers

The only full season under manager Hal McRae ended up the worst season in Rays history, but they got off to a great start, the first of three straight wins over the Tigers.

RECAP:  The Rays trailed 5-3 in the sixth inning before Steve Cox's bases-loaded single tied it and Greg Vaughn's RBI single in the eighth gave the Rays a lead. … Bobby Smith added a key bases-loaded double in the Rays' 4-run eighth. … Victor Zambrano pitched in relief and earned the first of his two opening-day wins.

Greg Vaughn singles in the game-winning run during the eighth inning. [AP Photo/Chris O’Meara]

LINEUP:
LF Jason Tyner
CF Randy Winn
1B Steve Cox
DH Greg Vaughn
C Toby Hall
RF Ben Grieve
3B Bob Smith
2B Brent Abernathy
SS Chris Gomez
P Tanyon Sturtze

11. 2001, 8-1 win over Blue Jays

An impressive showing by Albie Lopez in the opener of what turned out to be a bad enough start for GM Chuck LaMar to fire manager Larry Rothschild just 14 games into the season.

RECAP:  Albie Lopez went eight IP, which remains the most ever by a Rays starter on Opening Day. … Every Rays player with an at-bat got a hit, and Randy Winn's eighth-inning pinch-hit homer was the Rays' first on opening day.

Devil Rays manager Larry Rothschild, left, congratulates starting pitcher Albie Lopez after the Rays defeated the Blue Jays 8-1. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
Devil Rays manager Larry Rothschild, left, congratulates starting pitcher Albie Lopez after the Rays defeated the Blue Jays 8-1. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
LINEUP:
CF Gerald Williams
DH Steve Cox
LF Greg Vaughn
1B Fred McGriff
RF Ben Grieve
3B Vinny Castilla
2B Bobby Smith
C John Flaherty
SS Félix MartÍnez
P Albie Lopez

12. 1999, 10-7 loss at Orioles

After a first season in which everything was new, the Rays started their second with a mess, and Wilson Alvarez showed again opening day was not his thing.

RECAP:  The Rays got home runs from José Canseco and John Flaherty and three hits from Fred McGriff, but stranded 12 runners on base. … Starter Wilson Álvarez yielded a pair of third-inning homers (Albert Belle, Brady Anderson). … Wade Boggs had multiple hits in his last opening day game.

Wilson Alvarez dives in vain for a ball popped up by Baltimore Orioles Cal Ripken as he executed a sacrifice bunt in the second inning. [AP Photo/Roberto Borea]

LINEUP:
CF Randy Winn
RF Dave Martinez
DH José Canseco
1B Fred McGriff
C John Flaherty
3B Wade Boggs
LF Paul Sorrento
2B Miguel Cairo
SS Kevin Stocker
P Wilson Álvarez
13. 2017, 7-3 loss to Yankees

We didn't know it at the time, but 3B Evan Longoria's ninth straight opening-day start would be his last with the Rays.

RECAP:  The Rays scored multiple runs in the first, second and third innings, making them the first team in modern major league history to reach an opposing starting pitcher for at least two ER in each of the first three innings on Opening Day, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. … Evan Longoria made his ninth consecutive opening day start, surpassing Carl Crawford (8) for most in franchise history, and hit his fourth career opening day homer, extending a club record. … Logan Morrison had three hits, and Longoria and Morrison each had three RBI.

Evan Longoria points into the stands after his two-run home run in the second inning. [Times files]

LINEUP:
DH Corey Dickerson
CF Kevin Kiermaier
3B Evan Longoria
2B Brad Miller
RF Steven Souza Jr.
1B Logan Morrison
SS Tim Beckham
LF Mallex Smith
C Derek Norris
P Chris Archer
14. 2016, 5-3 loss to Orioles

What would be a familiar theme emerged right away as Chris Archer and the Rays pitchers put on a show but the bats failed them.

RECAP:  For the second straight season, the Rays fell behind on opening day in the top of the first inning and never led. … Rays pitchers had 16 strikeouts, tying the modern major league record (since 1900) for a nine-inning game on opening day, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. … Chris Archer became the first pitcher to record 12 strikeouts (or more) on opening day and lose since Bob Gibson in 1975. … Corey Dickerson homered in his Rays debut and Evan Longoria became the Rays all-time hits leader on opening day.

Chris Archer wipes his face after Baltimore Orioles’ Chris Davis scored on a single by Matt Wieters in the fourth inning. [AP Photo/Patrick Semansky]

LINEUP:
2B Logan Forsythe
1B Logan Morrison
3B Evan Longoria
DH Corey Dickerson
LF Desmond Jennings
SS Brad Miller
RF Steven Souza Jr.
CF Kevin Kiermaier
C Hank Conger
P Chris Archer

15. 2014, 9-2 win over Blue Jays

A strong start by David Price in what would be his last opener for the Rays, and a solid show of support.

RECAP:  The Rays matched their largest margin of victory (2011, 2000) and highest run total (2002) on opening day in franchise history. .. The Rays built a 4-0 lead, scoring in each of the first, second and third innings. … David Price went 7.1 IP to match the second-longest opening-day start in franchise history. … Wil Myers had three hits and Matt Joyce recorded three RBI.

David Price tips his cap to the crowd after being relieved in the eighth inning. [Times files]

LINEUP:
LF David DeJesus
RF Wil Myers
2B Ben Zobrist
3B Evan Longoria
1B James Loney
CF Desmond Jennings
DH Matt Joyce
C José Molina
SS Yunel Escobar
P David Price

16.  2013, 7-4 loss to Orioles

It was exciting, at least, as the bullpen turned what could have been a tone-setting win into a frustrating loss.

RECAP:  All seven runs allowed by the Rays came with two outs. … David Price allowed a two-run homer in the first inning to Matt Wieters, but the Rays came back with a solo homer by Ben Zobrist in the fourth and an RBI double by Desmond Jennings and sacrifice fly by Zobrist in the sixth to carry a 3-2 lead into the late innings. … Jake McGee allowed a then-career high five runs in the seventh, giving the Orioles a lead they never relinquished.

Jake McGee, right, waits for Chris Davis to round the bases following Davis’ a three-run homer in the seventh inning. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]

LINEUP:
CF Desmond Jennings
RF Sam Fuld
2B Ben Zobrist
3B Evan Longoria
LF Matt Joyce
SS Yunel Escobar
1B James Loney
C José Molina
DH Kelly Johnson
P David Price

17. 2005, 5-2 loss to Blue Jays

If nothing else, remember the history of seeing RHP Dewon Brazelton make an opening day start — and pitch well.

RECAP:  The Rays' five-game opening day winning streak was snapped. … Starter Dewon Brazelton only allowed three hits in seven IP, but they came consecutively in the fourth inning: a double by Frank Catalanotto, then home runs by Orlando Hudson and Vernon Wells. … The Blue Jays had 5 extra-base hits; the Rays none.

Dewon Brazelton pitches during the second inning. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

LINEUP:
LF Carl Crawford
SS Julio Lugo
RF Aubrey Huff
1B Travis Lee
DH Josh Phelps
2B Jorge Cantú
CF Chris Singleton
C Toby Hall
3B Alex Gonzalez
P Dewon Brazelton

18. 2008, 6-2 win at Orioles

The beginning of the Rays era got off to a promising start, and it only got better from there. (Fun fact: Though he went on to star as a rookie, Evan Longoria began this season in the minors, got called up a few days in.)

RECAP:  James Shields allowed a two-run double in the first inning, then shut out the Orioles over his next six innings pitched. … B.J. Upton's two-run single in the third gave the Rays the lead.

Akinori Iwamura (1) celebrates with teammate Willy Aybar after scoring in the on B.J. Upton’s hit in the third inning. [Times files]

LINEUP:
2B Akinori Iwamura
LF Carl Crawford
1B Carlos Peña
CF Melvin Upton Jr.
DH Cliff Floyd
3B Willy Aybar
RF Eric Hinske
C Dioner Navarro
SS Jason Bartlett
P James Shields
19. 2007, 9-5 loss to Yankees

The last season in Devil Rays uniforms started in appropriate fashion, with some excitement but a young team making mistakes and losing.

RECAP:  With an average age of 24 years, 79 days, the Rays started the youngest opening day lineup since the 1983 Twins. … Elijah Dukes connected off Carl Pavano in the fifth inning to become the 99th player in major league history to homer in his first career at-bat. … The Rays led 5-3 in the sixth, but the Yankees tied it then and added insurance runs in the seventh and eighth.

Rays third baseman Akinori Iwamura is greeted by center fielder Elijah Dukes after hitting a solo home run to put the Rays up, 3-0, in the fifth inning. [Times files]

LINEUP:
LF Carl Crawford
SS Ben Zobrist
DH Rocco Baldelli
1B Ty Wigginton
RF Delmon Young
3B Akinori Iwamura
C Dioner Navarro
CF Elijah Dukes
2B Melvin Upton Jr.
P Scott Kazmir

20. 2011, 4-1 loss to Orioles

The season that would end with the most exciting day in modern baseball history got off to boring start.

RECAP:  The Rays and Orioles combined for only 9 hits. … The Rays were shut out until the ninth inning, when Ben Zobrist led off the frame with a homer off Jim Johnson.

Rays manager Joe Maddon, left, gets a hug from Ben Zobrist during player introductions. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

LINEUP:
2B Ben Zobrist
LF Johnny Damon
3B Evan Longoria
DH Manny Ramírez
1B Dan Johnson
CF Melvin Upton Jr.
RF Matt Joyce
SS Reid Brignac
C John Jaso,
P David Price

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