Tampa Bay Rays beat New York Yankees 7-6 on Carlos Peña's walkoff single

ST. PETERSBURG — Carlos Peña put on quite a show Friday night.

This was after his bases-loaded single off Mariano Rivera gave the Rays a pulsing 7-6 walkoff win over the Yankees in the season opener, which was after the grand slam he hit off CC Sabathia in his first at-bat since coming back to Tampa Bay, which was after he was introduced to a roaring ovation from the sold-out Tropicana Field crowd.

Peña jumped into the middle of the Rays' crazed clubhouse celebration — their first one in that room since the one after Game 162 last season — and danced under the strobe lights, spotlights and disco ball they hang for such occasions.

"He's awesome," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "He is the man. And he can dance."

Peña spoke modestly about what he accomplished at the plate, about how he responded after the Yankees intentionally walked shortstop Sean Rodriguez to bring him to the plate in the first versus Sabathia (against whom he was 4-for-35), and about how he hung in with two strikes against Rivera (0-for-11).

But he was more than willing to brag about his postgame moves.

"You know I've got it," he said. "That was great."

As part of their celebration — "It's always a party for five minutes after a win," second baseman Ben Zobrist said — the team as a group will select a player or two to feature.

Friday, there wasn't much need for discussion.

"Carlos got everyone's player of the game," starter James Shields said. "It was unreal. It was almost like Game 162 where we were all going nuts in here. It was amazing. We ended (last) season with a walkoff, and we begin the season this year with a walkoff. You really couldn't ask for anything better."

Things didn't look good, of course, heading to the ninth.

Shields was off his game, throwing too many pitches (104) in only five innings and throwing away the 4-0 lead Peña presented him, something he hadn't done since July 2010. They had botched a couple of squeeze bunts, misplayed a few balls in the field and had failed in four chances to get a runner home from third with less than two outs, 2-for-10 overall with runners in scoring position.

And there the Rays were, down a run and facing the magnificent Rivera, who 60 of 61 times had finished them off with a save, his lone misstep (Aug. 16, 2005) coming before Joe Maddon was the Tampa Bay manager.

But in the dugout, there was belief. Pitcher David Price was running up and down, leading the cheers, and the confidence in a comeback was obvious.

"We believe strongly," Maddon said. "We were all calling it. Everyone dialed up the conclusion."

Centerfielder Desmond Jennings singled and Zobrist, improving to 3-for-3 against Rivera, laced the first pitch to right-center for a tying triple.

Zobrist's "secret"?

"Sometimes," he said, "you close your eyes and you hit."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi got strategic again, utilizing a five-man infield and walking Longoria and DH Luke Scott. Rivera struck out Rodriguez, but then Peña, who Maddon decided to move up a spot from his original order in a "midnight epiphany," stepped up and, down 1-and-2, delivered again.

"I'm not going to make an excuse for it, I just left the ball up on the plate," Rivera said. "You don't want to start a season that way. Thank God it's only one game."

And only the first game at that, but the Rays looked to be in late-season form as they staged their celebration.

"Carlos is one of those guys that's really fun to celebrate with because you can see the joy all over his face," Zobrist said. "And he gets everyone else going too."

An hour after the game, Peña was still radiating. He had spoken openly about how much he missed being part of the Rays' success last season, when he played for the Cubs, and was clearly touched to have made such a dramatic return.

"What a special moment for me in my career," he said. "I was very excited."

Rallying Rays

Friday was the fourth time the Rays have come from behind to win their home opener in the bottom of the ninth inning:

Year Score Opponent

2012 7-6 Yankees

2010 4-3 Orioles

2007 6-5 Blue Jays

2003 6-4 Red Sox

Carlos Peña, down in the count against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, against whom he is hitless in 11 at-bats, smashes the ball to the base of the wall to give the Rays a 7-6 win. Peña is back in Tampa Bay after a season playing for the Cubs.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Carlos Peña, down in the count against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, against whom he is hitless in 11 at-bats, smashes the ball to the base of the wall to give the Rays a 7-6 win. Peña is back in Tampa Bay after a season playing for the Cubs.

Tampa Bay Rays beat New York Yankees 7-6 on Carlos Peña's walkoff single 04/06/12 [Last modified: Friday, April 6, 2012 11:26pm]

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