For (final) home openers ...
(UPDATE 4:05 PM) Manager Joe Maddon was generally pleased with the day, noting things Carl Crawford's running catch and Eliot Johnson's two two-strike hits. Also, Rocco Baldelli said he felt fine after his first game since May. "It's been a while,'' he said.
UPDATE (3:33 PM) Rays win 5-2.
(UPDATE 3:16 PM) Maybe the sentiment about the end of spring training in St. Petersburg will build as March unfolds, but on a picture-perfect weather day the Rays and Jays drew only 4,918, well short of capacity.
(UPDATE 3:13 PM) The Rays added another run on an RBI single by Joel Guzman and lead 5-2 going to the eighth.
(UPDATE 2:48 PM) Top 3B prospect Evan Longoria is going to make things interesting for the Rays brass all spring. Longoria just came up as a pinch-hitter in the sixth (for Rocco Baldelli) and blasted a ball to the right-centerfield gap, tripling in two runs to put the Rays ahead 3-2. Ben Zobrist followed with another triple to left and it's now 4-2, though he was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a fly out.
The Rays just got on the board thanks to an old familiar face. C Mike Difelice, an original Ray trying to win the backup catcher's job, capped an impressive at-bat by singling in Eliot Johnson to make it 2-1. After Justin Ruggiano singled, Longoria came up and had his second big hit in two days, making a heck of a first impression in his bid to make the opening day roster.
(UPDATE 2:24 PM) Just finished the fifth, still 2-0 Jays. The new Rays team members are getting their spring training work in too, and showing some potential.
(UPDATE 2:09 PM) Rocco Baldelli just had his second at-bat, grounding out to shortstop and again taking it easy on the run.
(UPDATE 2:04 PM) Al Reyes worked a quick and very business-like third inning, but Trever Miller gave up a run on a couple hits in the fourth to make it 2-0 Jays. CF Fernando Perez has showed his speed several times already on the bases and in the field. The regulars are already coming out.
(UPDATE 1:38 PM) James Shields had a little tougher time in his second inning, loading the bases on a hit batter, a walk and a slow ground ball that new 2B Akinori Iwamura coudn't make a play on. But he ended up allowing only one run as Carl Crawford made a nice running catch in leftfield. When the Rays did a between innings trivia contest and referenced this being the last spring training in St. Petersburg there were more than a few booes. Interesting to see if they continue to refer to that.
(UPDATE 1:22 PM): Rocco Baldelli got a nice hand before his first at-bat (his first in a game since his season-ending hamstring injury in May), but grounded into a force out at third, ending a first-inning rally. Manager Joe Maddon said before the game that the team was fully on board with Baldelli's plans to take it easy on his legs during spring training, even if it impacts the game, such as costing the Rays a run. The goal is to get him to opening day healthy.
(UPDATE 1:13 PM) Rays starter James Shields had a quick and impressive first inning, with two groundouts and a bat-shattering popout to Carlos Pena.
(UPDATE, 1:05 PM) James Shields' first pitch was a strike, too, as the Rays were greeted with a hearty cheer, though quiet a few empty seats. There are some lines still at the ticket windows. And a fan behind the third base dugout was just hit by a flying bat that slipped from the grip of Toronto's Shannon Stewart, and is being attended to by medical personnel.
The first game of the Rays' last spring season at Al Lang Field (which will always sounds more appropriate than Progress Energy Park), will start under a bright sun and blue skies. And with several obvious references to their plan to keep playing on this site in a new regular-season stadium - there's several signs around the park, including a big one on the outfield fence; a "home plate" painted on the grass in right-center field to show where it would be in the new place, and an opening PA announcement.
RHP James Shields will be on the mound for the Rays, but first veteran ABC newsman Sam Donaldson threw out the ceremonial pitch as part of a skin cancer awareness program - and it was a strike to Rays advisor Fred McGriff.
Here is the Rays' lineup:
Also on the card as available to pitch: lefties Trever Miller, J.P. Howell and Kirt Birkins; righties Al Reyes, Dan Wheeler, Gary Glover, Scott Dohmann, Mitch Talbot and Scott Munter.