MIAMI — For openers, things worked out pretty well for the Rays.
The starter they were counting on to deliver did just that. Tyler Glasnow worked six dazzlingly dominant innings despite his back tightening up so severely he couldn’t risk taking a swing in his two at-bats.
One of the players the Rays are banking on rebounding from a lost 2020 season delivered the biggest hit — and the only run. Austin Meadows homered with two outs in the eighth after considering a bunt, but was told by hitting coach Chad Mottola that he was going to win the game.
And the bullpen the Rays were hoping could navigate the loss of top reliever Nick Anderson met a significant initial test impressively. Ryan Thompson, Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo teamed up with no margin for error in the final nine outs.
“We won a game today pretty much how we’re built,” manager Kevin Cash said after Thursday’s 1-0 win over the Marlins at LoanDepot Park, which included a crowd of 7,062 in distanced, pod-style seating.
For all the talk leading up to the opener about putting the success of their 2020 run to the World Series behind them — “It’s over,” team leader Kevin Kiermaier said before the game — the Rays won in very familiar ways.
Glasnow was massively impressive in his first opening day start, moving up in the rotation following the offseason departures of Charlie Morton and Blake Snell.
Using his new slider often and effectively, he allowed only one hit, a first-inning infield single on a ball Yandy Diaz fielded behind third but pumped before throwing late to first. All while striking out six and walking none, throwing 57 of 76 pitches for strikes.
“Just looked the part,” Cash said. “Looked like an opening day starter. Looked like an ace.”
Glasnow felt good about what he did, especially given how bad his back felt, tightening up just before the game. He “felt it a little bit pitching,” but was more worried with running and twisting so otherwise took it easy.
He also handled the potential to get over-hyped by the pomp and circumstance of the opener. “That was the thing I was most proud of today,” Glasnow said. “I really got out there for the first pitch and was like, ‘This feels like spring.’ Not to diminish anything, I was just very much relaxed.”
The Rays wasted two early opportunities against also impressive Marlins starter Sandy Alcantara, and Meadows said the hitters knew it was going to be a game decided by a swing or two.
Noting the Marlins’ extreme defensive shift in his fifth-inning at-bat, Meadows and Mottola discussed bunting as an option. As Meadows was on deck in the eighth, he asked Mottola if he should try it against reliever Yimi Garcia and get Randy Arozarena to the plate.
Mottola had something else in mind. “I said, ‘No, you’re going to win it. You go do it yourself.’ ”
Meadows put himself through intense offseason workouts to lose weight and become more athletic, striving to get more in the shape he was for his 2019 All-Star and co-team MVP season than the 2020 lost to injury and a bout with COVID-19.
“He worked really hard to get back in shape to that 2019 form,” Cash said. “Austin’s got a chance to be a really special player, a special hitter in the league, on our team obviously. He picked us up in a big way.”
Once they got the lead, the Rays had to protect it. Anderson typically handled the highest-leverage situations, but with an elbow injury knocking him out for months, those duties had to be redistributed.
Fairbanks got the Rays through the eighth, navigating around a one-out infield single, and a stolen base, by catcher Jorge Alfaro, then a two-out walk. Not helping, the Rays failed to add on after loading the bases in the ninth. But Castillo made it not matter, zipping through a 12-pitch 1-2-3 ninth.
“Amazing, as always,” Glasnow said. “It was kind of like we just picked up from years prior. It’s that weird feeling of when they do come in and it’s just like, ‘All right.’ You have so much confidence in the bullpen just because I’ve seen them do it for so many times. And it’s just, I know how good they are.”
For a day when everything was supposed to be new, the Rays did a lot like like they used to.
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