A banner to commemorate last year's wild-card playoff appearance was raised before Monday's opener, but it was the lofty expectations hanging over the Rays that truly set the day apart.
Principal owner Stuart Sternberg joked that the procession of World Series projections scared the, well, something out of him and that he found them "quite surprising" and a "bit outlandish." Manager Joe Maddon, conversely, said he relished the high praise — "Love 'em, absolutely love 'em" — and was eager for the challenge of proving that their team was as good as others said.
As for the Rays players? Well, for opening day anyway, they lived up to them with a 9-2 victory over the Blue Jays that could not have gone much better.
"That," Maddon said, "was pretty nicely done."
The Rays got the starting pitching they expected from the guy who didn't expect to still be with them, ace David Price pitching impressively into the eighth, allowing the two runs on a pinch-hit homer on his 99th pitch of an otherwise dominant day.
"That's why everybody hoped that they'd have traded him," Toronto manager John Gibbons said.
The Rays got the offense they were banking on after working on it all spring, scoring their nine runs in a variety of ways with contributions from a number of players. Wil Myers rapped three of their 11 hits including one that, with two Toronto errors, turned into a Little League home run; Matt Joyce, in the DH role he's going to have to get used to, picked up three RBIs; and James Loney — yes, James Loney — stole a base.
"That's what we're looking to do offensively," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "That was one of the things we talked about in the spring, trying from pitch No. 1 being able to go out and put pressure on the defense and make them make plays."
And they got the defense they have come to be known for, centerfielder Desmond Jennings making a tone-setting running and diving catch on a sinking liner from first batter Jose Reyes.
"That ball falls and it could be an entirely different game," Maddon said.
The Rays came into the game with more than the usual opening day optimism. They were coming off a stellar spring in which they won the Grapefruit League following an offseason in which they uncharacteristically spent to keep Price and other key players and made several key additions, pushing the payroll to a franchise-record $80 million.
Even in trying to downplay the expectations, Sternberg admitted, "I cannot imagine a year where we'd be in better shape on opening day than we are right now."
Add in the usual pomp and circumstance, an inspirational appearance by an ailing Don Zimmer, a sellout crowd of 31,042 and the excitement over renovations to the Trop — and then the result — and it made for a special day.
"For us, it's exactly how we wanted to start," Joyce said.
Price went through the spring with a laser-like focus, and he took it to the mound Monday, breezing through the first two innings, escaping the slight trouble he created by putting two on in each of the next two then zipping through the sixth in six pitches and the seventh in seven. His only mistake was the two-run homer he allowed to pinch-hitter Erik Kratz in the eighth.
"I felt good with whatever I was throwing," Price said.
Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey has been something of a nemesis for the Rays, but they came out with an aggressive approach that worked, swinging early in counts and scoring in each of the first three innings to build a 4-0 lead.
"To be able to come out and kind of set the tempo for the year and jump on a guy we've really struggled against was a good sign," Longoria said.
For openers, it was quite a day, certainly worthy of those grandiose expectations.
"Overall it was good," Longoria said.
"I would say so," Price added.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.