ST. PETERSBURG — The night began with images, literal and figurative, of last season's success as the Rays hung their latest AL East championship banner above leftfield after a montage of highlights flashed on the videoboard.
But there was little resemblance after that as this Rays team, at least in Friday night's season opener, didn't look like, or play like, that one.
These Rays weren't sharp in the field or on the bases, failed to do much of anything at the plate against Baltimore's Jeremy Guthrie and didn't win, on the wrong side of a 4-1 final.
"We got beat, period," Rays starter David Price said. "Offensively, defensively, pitching. We got dominated in baseball."
So after new Gov. Rick Scott got booed by a majority of the sellout crowd of 34,078 and Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg and St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster turned up the rhetoric in their stadium tete-a-tete, the 2011 Rays made a disappointing debut.
"It was a bad day for us," new Ray Johnny Damon said. "The good thing is we know that it could get better. You always want to win ball games, but it just seemed like we were off. And hopefully that doesn't happen too often."
"A little amped up for opening day," centerfielder B.J. Upton said. "A month of spring training and you get in this atmosphere with a full stadium of 35,000, you let your emotions get the best of you some times. I wouldn't expect this every night. I think this is a one-night thing."
Price was solid in his first opening-day start, striking out seven over seven innings, but he made some mistakes: an errant pickoff throw to second that contributed to the Orioles' first run, and a walk — his only one of the night — to No. 9 hitter J.J. Hardy at a pivotal point in a three-run fifth inning.
"The walk to Hardy kind of set up the disaster right there," manager Joe Maddon said.
It was, at least, somewhat entertaining as Brian Roberts laced a ball to left-center that scored two as it skipped to the wall, raising the question if former leftfielder Carl Crawford would have at least cut it off. Damon tried then ended up slip-sliding for it and flipping it by Upton, who had come over to help, with Roberts advancing to third. He scored on a sac fly.
Maddon lauded Damon for his creativity at least, and Damon said he had visions of the infamous Fenway Park play where then-and-again Boston teammate Manny Ramirez cut off one of his throws.
"We were trying to do that triple cutoff man again," Damon said. "Manny's not out there, so I thought I would try it with B.J."
Upton made a bad decision of his own on the bases, getting caught breaking for third to run the Rays out of a potential eighth-inning rally. Maddon said it's a play where Upton has to be absolutely sure he can make it, and Upton knew he was wrong.
"Definitely in that situation, one run is not going to make a difference. We needed four," Upton said. "Stupid baserunning by me, but you learn from it."
And the supposedly robust offense was rendered impotent by Guthrie, who was so sharp he had Maddon referencing longtime ace Greg Maddux.
The Rays had just one hit through five innings and two after seven, shut out until Ben Zobrist homered on Jim Johnson's first pitch of the ninth, with Nos. 2-3-4 hitters Damon, Evan Longoria and Ramirez a combined 0-for-12.
"When a guy pitches that well, it's really hard to do anything," Maddon said. "He was just that good."
The disappointment seemed widespread throughout the Rays clubhouse, but especially for Damon, who had 250 friends and relatives (doing his part to meet the attendance clauses in his contract) come over from the Orlando area to witness his first appearance for what he has long considered his hometown team.
"And," Damon said, "they had to see this (bad) game."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.