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A flash of gold by Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier

Leaping catch at the wall by two-time winning gold glove centerfielder begins the season for the Rays
 
Tampa Bay Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) leaps to make a catch at the wall on a long fly ball hit by Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts (50) during the first inning of their home opener Thursday, March 29, 2018 in St. Petersburg. (Dirk Shadd, Times)
Tampa Bay Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) leaps to make a catch at the wall on a long fly ball hit by Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts (50) during the first inning of their home opener Thursday, March 29, 2018 in St. Petersburg. (Dirk Shadd, Times)
Published March 30, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — CF Kevin Kiermaier's quest to be the best defensive player on the planet got off to a great start Thursday when he chased a drive by Mookie Betts on the very first pitch of the game to the fence at the deepest part of Tropicana Field.

From there it was a leap, a catch and a crash into the wall for Kiermaier's first highlight of the season in the Rays come-from-behind 6-4 victory.
"That is the most me moment," Kiermaier said. "You can't make that up."

No, you cannot.

Kiermaier was denied a chance for a third consecutive gold glove last season. Because of his right hip fracture, he did not play in the required number of games to qualify for the award. He is itching to reclaim his spot atop the list this season of best defensive center fielders in the American League and beyond.

"Me crashing into a wall, scraping my forearm on a zip tie bleeding, hitting my elbow on who knows what, that's probably the most Kevin Kiermaier — first pitch of the season that's unreal — and I'm not complimenting myself," Kiermaier said. "It's one of those things. You know me, crashing into the wall first pitch. You can't script that any better."

And then came this

The Red Sox took a 3-0 lead in the second when a sinking line drive by Eduardo Nuñez bounce between LF Denard Span and Kiermaier in shallow left-centerfield and became a two-run inside-the-park home run.

Span slid to avoid contact, and Kiermaier jumped over him before falling to the turf.

"That ball was hit absolutely perfectly," Kiermaier said. "I wouldn't change anything I did and I don't think Denard would either. It was hit in the absolutely perfect spot. Perfect trajectory. We both would have been able to catch the ball. I watched the replay already. It's one of those things that it was literally hit in the perfect place."

Grease was the word

A small grease fire broke out in the concession stand in section 308 on the stadium's top level, at about 11 a.m. Thursday but did not impact the game.
The fire was quickly extinguished by sprinkler and fire suppressant systems. The building was not evacuated but those waiting to get in were delayed for 45 minutes until St. Pete Fire and Rescue, which was called to the scene, gave the all clear signal.

Archer’s day

The six-run eighth inning turned a loss for RHP Chris Archer into a well-earned no-decision. Well-earned because Archer kept his composure and responded with four shutdown innings before tiring and allowing a run in the seventh.

Archer had a seven-pitch third and an eight-pitch fifth.

"After the second inning I was going to keep it as close to this score as possible and continue to do my job, because I felt like I was throwing the ball well," Archer said.

Pitching into the seventh was key, given the Rays did not want to have a heavy bullpen day on the first day of the season.

Miscellany

The Rays matched their biggest comeback on opening day. They also trailed 4-0 to beat the Red Sox 6-4 on March 31, 2003 — Lou Pinella's first game as manager. …

The Rays were 5-65 last season when trailing after seven innings.
The Rays are 11-10 on opening day and in home openers. ..

RHP Alex Colome is the only pitcher in team history to have a save on opening. He did it last season, too. ..

According to Baseball Reference, the Rays are the first team since data is available (1908) to score six runs on opening day when recording four or fewer hits. ..

Contact Roger Mooney at rmooney@tampabay.com. Follow @rogermooney50