ST. PETERSBURG — Matt Joyce was pretty proud of himself when he got to first base in the seventh inning Wednesday, having started a Rays rally by heeding his coaches' advice and pushing a bunt onto open grass to beat the Orioles' defensive shift.
But the Brandon-area product was admittedly a lot more excited two innings later when he extended his arms and blasted a home run to rightfield that gave the Rays an 8-7 walkoff win over the Orioles.
"I'll take that one any day, for sure," Joyce said after the first walkoff hit of his career.
Joyce's homer was the most dramatic moment of an eventful second night of the season. The Rays came back from the 4-0 deficit Jeremy Hellickson put them in thanks primarily to a massive homer by newcomer Shelley Duncan, took the lead with a three-run rally sparked by Joyce's bunt, survived the unexpected as Fernando Rodney blew the save in the ninth, then ended up celebrating at home plate anyway when Joyce turned on Tommy Hunter's 3-and-1 "non-executed" fastball.
"It's crazy," Joyce said. "To get the first win out of the way and having it in dramatic fashion kind of seems to be the Rays way of doing things."
And once Joyce got done with his onfield interview with Todd Kalas and made it back into the clubhouse, things got even crazier, as the newcomers got to see how the Rays celebrate a win.
The disco ball was spinning, strobe lights flashing, Pitbull's Don't Stop the Party was blaring, then Joyce pulled the cord to light the Captain Morgan light in the corner of the clubhouse.
Shortstop Yunel Escobar pulled out his cellphone to take a video. "First time I saw that," he said.
Kelly Johnson wasn't sure initially what to think.
"You think it's going to end, and it just keeps on going," Johnson said. "It was hilarious. And awkward. I was trying to figure out exactly what I was supposed to do. I felt like Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, in my first interview."
The Rays didn't look like they would be celebrating in front of 15,599 at Tropicana Field when Hellickson allowed a three-run homer to Chris Davis in the first.
But they got back in the game, and back to even, in the sixth. They got one when Ben Zobrist knocked in red-hot Desmond Jennings, then three more after manager Joe Maddon made a curious but correct decision to let Duncan, a right-handed hitter, face righty Luis Ayala rather then pinch-hit Joyce, knowing the O's would bring in lefty Brian Matusz.
Duncan took one of his trademark ferocious hacks and knocked the ball into the leftfield seats. Then he got to the dugout and took a few more in celebration, high-fiving everyone in sight and high-10ing ace David Price.
"That was probably harder than he swung, but I'll take it," Price said. "One of the coaches yelled at me for using my left hand."
After Tuesday's opener, Maddon and bench coach Dave Martinez pointed out to Joyce that the O's were giving him the opportunity to beat their shift with a bunt. And as he went to the plate as a pinch-hitter in the seventh, he had it in mind.
"The point there is you're just playing baseball," Maddon said. "There is a machismo involvement in our game today that sometimes players choose to not play baseball, they've just got to force the issue all the time. I loved that. I loved all of that."
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Johnson followed with a grounder that beat the shift as well, and Joyce went hard from first to third, then scored on a wild pitch. A James Loney double and a Zobrist single made it 7-5, but Joel Peralta gave up one run, then Rodney — who blew only two saves in 50 chances last year — gave up another.
Overall, Maddon said, it worked out well, everyone getting involved — pitcher Matt Moore was on alert since the bench was empty — in a dramatic win.
"It's kind of outstanding, actually, to do all that, and to baptize all the new guys within the locker room with the way we celebrate postgame," Maddon said. "It could not have been better to really break everyone in, in all the different facets of being a Ray."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.