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Energized Rays beat Orioles in season opener

BALTIMORE — The enthusiasm had built throughout the successful spring, the anticipation mounted through the weekend, and when the Rays finally got to opening day Monday, they literally couldn't sit still.

Batting practice canceled by a cold morning rain, they left the black leather couches empty and the TVs unwatched, bouncing around the clubhouse, antsy, excited, almost like a football team before kickoff.

"It was borderline special teams right there," manager Joe Maddon said. "They were all charged up before the game. I think we were just a little bit overamped."

They looked like it in the first inning, giving up a pair of runs as starter James Shields uncharacteristically struggled with command in throwing 26 pitches and leftfielder Carl Crawford made a rare misplay on a fly ball.

But these are the new Rays, the ones bound and determined to play the game right, and once they settled down, they did just that, rallying for a 6-2 win over the Orioles, then calling it a sign of things to come.

"To come out here doing what we did after the spring training we had is great," Shields said. "Hopefully we keep this roll going."

Not only was the result what they wanted, but so was the process.

"A total team effort today," Crawford said. "That's the kind of ball we've been trying to play."

Shields, admittedly overcome by the moment, overcame his early issues to battle through seven innings, allowing only the two runs on five hits and three walks. Five players had RBIs, including newcomers Eric Hinske, who homered, and Jason Bartlett, who singled; and returnees Dioner Navarro, who had three hits, and B.J. Upton, with a two-run single that put the Rays ahead to stay in the third. The defense was tidy, turning a pair of double plays, and three relievers — with only a moment or two of anxiety — got the final six outs.

"They all looked good out there," Maddon said. "They looked just like they did in spring training. It was the same kind of carryover game, just like we've been playing the entire spring. It was good to see that."

It was the Rays' first season-opening win since 2004 (in Japan) and their second in four road openers, and it left them alone in first place in the American League East for just the second night in the past four years.

"We definitely came out expecting to win today," Upton said. "Guys were just walking around the clubhouse; you could tell they were a little bit antsy. We were amped up the first couple innings, but once we got going, I think everybody calmed down and played their game. &

"The vibe in spring training was good, but starting today the games count, and you could tell that level of intensity went up a little bit."

And Maddon, raving about the level of conversation and liveliness in the dugout ("like birds on a wire"), couldn't have been more pleased.

"If we want to come out amped up every night, I'm good with that," he said. "We'll learn to tone it down at some point. One of the biggest issues we've had during spring training was talking about playing with intensity from day one, talking about playing nine innings hard every night, nine guys playing nine innings hard every day. And that's just what we did today.

"We're going to have, I expect, maybe one or two mulligans all year in that regard; at some point you do have a day that just doesn't work. But I think if we come out with the right mental approach every night you're going to see us play with that kind of intensity. And we need to have that kind of intensity to move up within this division."

Marc Topkin can be reached at
topkin@sptimes.com.

Energized Rays beat Orioles in season opener 03/31/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 2, 2008 8:43am]
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