BALTIMORE — They'll gather on familiar turf tonight at Tropicana Field to raise the flags that celebrate last year's championships. And after breaking even on their season-opening trip with Sunday's 11-3 victory, the Rays feel confident they have the potential to make this another banner season.
They headed home 3-3, winning two of three in always intense Boston then rebounding to salvage the final game against the obviously improved Orioles.
What they seemed to feel best about was how they won Sunday: a strong start (and on the road) from ace James Shields, four more home runs and an actual two-out clutch hit, a bases-clearing triple by Carl Crawford in the four-run second.
"We played more … of our game," manager Joe Maddon said. "I guess everyone wants that to be their game. We're pretty good on the mound. We finally got a timely hit on top of the home runs. We still played our good defense again.
"It looked more familiar."
That started with Shields, whose road woes don't seem to accompany him to Baltimore, where he is 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA compared with 10-17, 5.42 everywhere else.
Shields said he was going to alter his road routine. But all he did differently was show up at Camden Yards a little earlier than normal and chat a bit more: "Woke up, got myself some coffee, normal day. I'm trying not to change too, too much."
The results, though, were impressive: seven shutout innings, three hits, one walk, only two runners past first.
"He had everything going on," Maddon said. "Everything he threw he was locating."
The Rays had scored too many of their runs (11 of the first 17) by home runs for Maddon, who constantly stresses the importance of situational hitting. In Saturday's 6-0 loss, they went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Sunday, they went 6-for-13.
So even though Evan Longoria hit his majors-high fifth home run, shortstop Jason Bartlett ripped an unexpectedly long drive to right-center, Ben Zobrist had a three-run blast left-handed and Carlos Peña went deep, Maddon had a different favorite moment.
Bases loaded, two outs in the second, Crawford rips an Adam Eaton pitch down the rightfield line for a three-run triple.
"We need better at-bats with runners in scoring position; line drives and ground balls, not fly balls," Maddon said. "We're going to hit home runs. We have to do a better job in situational hitting."
"I don't know why we haven't been doing that right now," Crawford said. "We definitely want to get those hits. They're important."
So too was the victory, if as much for the psychological benefit as their win total.
"Going into the home opener, it would have been tough to lose three straight," said Zobrist, who Maddon made an Easter surprise addition to the lineup on yet another hunch that worked out.
After winning two of three in Boston, the Rays expected more in Baltimore but seemed pleased to head home for the weeklong celebration.
"We played well overall. We hit the ball. We pitched well. We played some good defense and made some good plays," Shields said. "That's what we need to be more consistent at. It's early in the season. We're 3-3 on the road. As far as I'm concerned, it's a win."
Let the celebration begin.