BOSTON — They spoke a lot this spring about how things were going to be different. That they couldn't assume what worked last year would again, or that things would work out the same.
And when the Rays finally got to open their season Tuesday, as the defending American League champions, and against the Red Sox team they beat to get there, they showed exactly what they were talking about in a disappointing 5-3 Round 1 of 18 loss that dropped them behind the Red Sox for the first time since June 28.
Typically on ace James Shields was off. And their supposedly enhanced offense looked anything but against Boston ace Josh Beckett. But by the end of the chilling day, the Rays had their chances for here-we-go-again heroics. Except, unlike so many times last season, there was no happy ending to celebrate.
"Sure, absolutely, you can't expect that to always happen," manager Joe Maddon said. "But I want our guys to believe that we can always. I think we taught ourselves a lesson that year that we can do those kind of things, but then you've got to get that same kind of vibe rolling the following year.
"How does that happen? By playing good baseball. We played good baseball today. From my perspective, it's all about working the process. We played well today; they outpitched us. … But if we play that kind of game on a consistent basis, we're going to win a lot of games again."
Just not the first one.
Down 4-1 in the sixth, they got their first two men to second and third with their vaunted 3-4-5 hitters up against Beckett, the moment — "Obviously a huge moment," Maddon said — they had been waiting for.
But Evan Longoria popped out, Carlos Peña struck out (for the third of four times), and Pat Burrell grounded out. "He was Josh Beckett," Longoria said. "He was ready to pitch today."
And when they closed to 5-3 with one out in the eighth on Longoria's two-run single off Justin Masterson, Peña struck out and Burrell lined out.
"We had opportunities," Burrell said.
"We still thought we were going to get it," Carl Crawford said. "Hopefully we can find a way to come back and win those kind of games."
They will have to do some things better.
Shields was not sharp, allowing five runs on nine hits (including a homer on the seventh pitch of the game to AL MVP Dustin Pedroia) and throwing 100 pitches in only 51/3 innings. He said the Sox had some Fenway fortune working in extending his misfortune there as he dropped to 0-4 with a 9.56 in what he certainly doesn't consider America's Most Beloved Ballpark.
"I made some pretty good pitches today, and some not-so-good pitches," Shields said. "They found every single hole it seemed like from rightfield to leftfield."
"Just off," Maddon said. "Just off a little bit."
The offense had some issues, too. The Rays managed only three hits, they struck out 14 times ("A bane of ours," Maddon said. "Something we have to get better at."), the middle of the order was a combined 1-for-12, and the situational hitting Maddon so often stresses wasn't there.
The Rays gave a lot of credit to Beckett, who struck out 10 in his seven sterling innings. "On an opening day, he looked like his old self, I thought," Maddon said. "He was that good."
And they seem to realize they can't just expect good things to happen.
"I don't think we believe that, especially this year," Longoria said. "We're not going to sneak up on anybody. We have to get out there and get after it.
"We're going to have to win games. Nobody's going to give us games. And that's going to be the biggest thing for us all year."
It wasn't the start they were hoping for, but it was, they said over and over in the clubhouse afterward, only the start.
"The good news," Burrell said, "is we have 161 more."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org