ST. PETERSBURG — The optimism of spring met the hard reality of the regular season for the Rays Thursday in a 5-1, opening-day loss to the Astros.
Their best pitcher, Cy Young award winner Blake Snell, had a bad day, allowing five runs on three home runs.
And their bats were shut down by wily veteran Justin Verlander, who allowed hits to the first two Rays but only one other over his seven innings.
The Rays took the lead in the first when Austin Meadows, one of their promising young players, knocked Verlander’s fourth pitch over the left-centerfield fence.
And Snell started well, retiring the five of the first six Astros, with catcher Mike Zunino catching Yuli Gurriel stealing after a single.
But the game changed quickly in the third when Snell walked the Nos. 7 and 9 hitters and then allowed a long three-run homer to George Springer that hit the batter’s eye blue wall well above the centerfield fence.
Snell also allowed a homer leading off the fourth to Michael Brantley and one in the fifth to Jose Altuve. Snell, who had limited time in big-league games this spring, threw 55 of his 91 pitches for strikes.
In posting his 21-5 record and 1.89 ERA last season, Snell had only one game when he allowed three homers, on May 13 vs. the Orioles, and two when he allowed as many as five runs.
The game was a sellout in the reduced capacity of 25,025 at Tropicana Field, and there were some first-day glitches with switch to cashless sales of food and merchandise.
The Rays had won their previous two season openers.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays