ST. PETERSBURG — The concession stand grease fire that filled Tropicana Field with smoke Thursday morning seemed an ominous sign that opening day wasn't going to go as planned for the Rays.
Further suggestion came in the second inning, when Gold Glove centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier and veteran newcomer leftfielder Denard Span miscommunicated and teamed to misplay a Eduardo Nunez line drive into a two-run inside-the-park home run.
But there was redemption for Span and celebration for the Rays by the end of the afternoon as he delivered a three-run eighth-inning triple to lead them to a 6-4 win over the Red Sox before a loud Tropicana Field sellout crowd of 31,042.
That made for a happy homecoming for Span, the 34-year-old who grew up in Tampa and had 20 relatives and friends in the stands.
Chris Archer, making a Ray record fourth straight opening day start, delivered an overall solid outing over six-plus innings, allowing four runs on six hits total plus a walk.
For much of the afternoon, the Rays seemed to be plagued by a familiar issue, as they couldn't get anything going against Sox ace Chris Sale, managing just one hit in the first six innings.
What a first hit as a Ray!! Denard Span spanks a 3-run triple in the bottom of the eighth to give the @RaysBaseball their first lead on #OpeningDay. Watch all of the action live now on FOX Sports Sun! #RaysUp #MLB pic.twitter.com/QT2MbKqMlJ— FOX Sports Florida (@FOXSportsFL) March 29, 2018
But down 4-0 they rallied in the eight and broke through against the Boston bullpen, scoring one when Daniel Robertson walked and came around on a double by Matt Duffy, playing in his first regular season game since Sept. 5, 2016, missing all of last season with left foot issues. Walks to Kiermaier and Carlos Gomez loaded the bases, then pinch-hitter Brad Miller drew another off Carson Smith to force in a run.
After Wilson Ramos struck out, Span struck, lining a ball into the rightfield corner that scored three. The Rays got another run when Span scored on Adeiny Hechavarria's infield single.
Alex Colome worked the ninth, allowing a two-out double to Nunez but then got a Jackie Bradley Jr. groundout to end it.
Kiermaier got the Rays off to a thrilling start when he made a running and leaping catch at the wall after Mookie Betts jumped on Archer's first pitch.
The "small grease fire" started and was contained to concession stand near section 308, team president Brian Auld said, and "was controlled pretty immediately, but obviously created a lot of smoke."
The game was the first of the Rays' third decade, the start of a season-long celebration of their 20th anniversary. Tropicana Field was dressed up well, after a $7 million upgrade primarily of the food, beverage and retail space, and the installation of a new turf.
What’s it like to play in your hometown? Tampa-raised #Rays OF Denard Span is about to find out - and he’s got good reason to be excited about the opportunity. #Twins #Nationals #SFGiants https://t.co/5GmcpMw4vp— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) March 25, 2018
"We put a bunch of money into it this year," principal owner Stuart Sternberg said. "The fans … they'll see it. People will know it. They'll taste it. They'll smell it. We've got outdoor space that's outstanding I'm looking at in centerfield right now. The food offerings, which I'm most proud of, we've partnered with a lot of local, not two or three but a ton of local companies. …
"I know as people come in they're going to be excited. I think it will go a long way toward bringing people back time and time again this year and for years to come."
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays