ST. PETERSBURG — Rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr. was talking about a baserunning mistake he hadn't made since Little League and a jittery day in the outfield. Catcher Rene Rivera was having trouble explaining exactly how the Orioles scored a run when he was standing at the plate with the ball. Chris Archer was lamenting the one pitch out of 85 he didn't execute without saying much about the ball he tossed away that led to a run.
For all the work the Rays did after a winter of massive change to feel they had everything aligned to launch their next era in a good way Monday, they spent much of the afternoon looking out of place, and out of synch, in a sloppy 6-2 loss to the Orioles.
"It was weird, a little bit different game," veteran third baseman Evan Longoria said. "I'm glad we got the first one out of the way."
The afternoon started well, with a poignant ceremony to retire the late Don Zimmer's No. 66; a positive reception for original Devil Rays owner Vince Naimoli who, in ill health, delivered the first pitch; and a warm welcome, from his 75 friends and relatives plus most of the sellout crowd, for Cash, the Tampa native hired by his hometown team to manage for the first time.
But by the end of the day, the Rays could not have been pleased with how they played, falling behind 4-0 and held to three hits through six innings by Chris Tillman before a Longoria home run stirred them; making mistakes on the bases; and looking shaky in the field.
"There were some raggedy moments," Cash said, "but at the same time we competed well."
Three runners were thrown out on the bases — Souza between first and second, James Loney at the plate and John Jaso at second on a play where he jammed his left wrist and will miss at least a couple of days.
Loney being called out trying to score from second to end the fifth, on a call that withstood a replay appeal on potential plate blocking, probably cost the Rays the most. Jaso rapping his wrist on shortstop Ryan Flaherty's knee was most costly, as he was relieved X-rays and an MRI exam showed no break but felt "really sore" and was unsure when he could next swing. (Which makes it a good thing the Rays kept David DeJesus after all.)
But most, well, entertaining was Souza, who had hustled to beat out an infield hit on a high throw but flinched toward second after crossing the first-base bag. When the Orioles noticed, he had to scramble into a rundown then ended up face-first on the ground, having knocked the wind out of himself.
"I'm not just going to stand there and be a dead duck," he said, "so I tried to make something out of it."
And the last time he did that kind of thing? "Back in Little League."
Rivera was caught in an awkward moment, a product, no doubt, of the home plate collision rules introduced last year. He had the ball well ahead of Steve Pearce getting to the plate but waited too long, and Pearce, figuring Rivera expected him to surrender, instead deked him and slid in, called out initially then safe on replay to make the lead 5-1 in the eighth.
"Just one of those plays," Rivera said. "That's a weird play, you'll probably never see that play no more."
Archer was pleased with 84 of his 85 pitches before being "surprised" at being pulled in the sixth, regretting only a 2-and-2 changeup — the pitch he was finally getting confident to throw in key situations — that Alejandro De Aza hit for a two-run homer in the fifth, stretching a 1-0 lead to 3-0. "Really one pitch that if I executed better, that was the difference," he said.
But the ball he threw over first baseman Loney's head after a soft roller by De Aza leading off the game was nearly as costly, leading to an unearned run as Travis Snider singled through the shift to put the Orioles up.
Though there were some highlights, the Rays did not look good in the field, especially Souza, who had some of the usual newcomer issues with the Trop roof and lights, plus the unusual issue of crowd noise — which won't be a problem most nights — affecting communication.
"I don't think you can simulate what it's like in the dome with a crowd yelling as far as a Port Charlotte crowd where the average age at our games is 65 so no one is really going to yell there," he said. "So we've just got to play together more."
Cash led what was pretty much a clubhouse chorus about how it's just one game out of 162, and there was just as much good as bad.
"Today didn't go as planned," centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. "It's one game. … We're not going to sit here and go into panic mode or anything like that."
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.