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Only Tampa Bay Rays opener highlights are a look back at 2010

ST. PETERSBURG — There is no right or wrong way to do it. When it comes to revisiting the memory of a championship, there are a number of ways you can go.

You can do poignant. You can try festive. You might even go for a mix of nostalgic and operatic. There is really only one story line you should probably try to avoid.

On the night you raise the banner, you don't want to drop the ball.

My goodness, the Rays laid a stinker Friday. They weren't good at the plate. They weren't good in the field or on the bases. And they weren't good enough on the mound.

You know you've had a bad night when the most spontaneous cheer from a sellout crowd was for the dancing groundskeeper in between innings.

"It was a bad day for us," leftfielder Johnny Damon said.

Okay, so in the grand scheme of things, this doesn't amount to diddly. It translates to about one-half of 1 percent of the season.

In the history of pennant races, the number of teams that have managed to come from one game behind in April is, officially, more than a boatload.

So keeping the hysterics to a minimum is probably a good call this morning. On the other hand, this was like having the dean confiscate the keg before you even got out of class.

"You know what," manager Joe Maddon said with tongue in cheek, "if you don't win the first one, you can't win them all."

Yes, but as nights go, this one had promise. There was the anticipation of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez making their regular-season debuts. There was David Price with his first opening-day start. There was a crowd worthy of a season opener.

Mostly, there was the raising of the 2010 American League East banner.

For a franchise with money woes and stadium controversy also hanging overhead, it should have been a night of nothing but bliss. Of good memories and loud cheers. And it felt that way through much of the pregame ceremonies and player introductions.

But then they showed highlights of the 2010 season on the stadium videoboard, and you were reminded of just how many players are no longer around.

Once they actually began playing, you were reminded again.

Damon and Ramirez combined to go 0-for-8 with two strikeouts. The only inning with more than one runner on base was cut short when B.J. Upton was picked off. And Price shut down the middle of the Baltimore order but was hurt twice by the eighth and ninth hitters.

The crowd booed Gov. Rick Scott when he threw out the first pitch, and he might have had the most impressive performance of anyone wearing a Rays jersey Friday night.

"I'm (ticked) off. I lost," Price said. "It's one game. Now it's over."

If you are particularly pessimistic, if you are looking for portents and omens, the two-run triple by Brian Roberts in the fifth was the most discouraging moment of the night.

It's not that Carl Crawford would have turned the ball into an out. He might be the best leftfielder in the game, but he would not have caught that ball.

But could he have gotten to the ball more quickly and held Roberts to a double? That's possible. And that's one of the shortcomings the Rays will have to live with this season.

They will not be as strong defensively in leftfield or at first base. And the issue is how often — and at what point in the game — does that come back to bite them.

If there are no men on and two outs in the second inning, it won't matter much if Damon fails to get to a ball in leftfield or Dan Johnson doesn't pick a throw out of the dirt at first.

But in a key situation with two runners on, it could be the difference between winning and losing.

Even so, that was not the cause of this particular loss. The offense was lacking against Jeremy Guthrie, and Price was not perfect, and there was no way for the Rays to overcome that combination.

"When you see a guy pitch like their guy did tonight — and our guy was pitching well, too — but they broke through and Guthrie was not going to be had tonight. He was that sharp," Maddon said. "It happens. You run into a guy that's really pitching a great game like that."

And so, for the first time since the Fourth of July, the Rays are not in first or second place in the AL East. They are tied for last, a whopping one game behind the leaders.

If it's discouraging to you this morning, just concentrate on this:

Crawford was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts while leaving five men on base in his Boston debut on Friday.

See, things aren't so bad.

Only Tampa Bay Rays opener highlights are a look back at 2010 04/01/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 1, 2011 11:33pm]
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