ST. PETERSBURG — Manuel Margot had to take a leap of faith.
In the top of the seventh inning, with Ryan Kreidler’s fly ball slicing to the rightfield foul line, the Rays outfielder was closing, but not quick enough. His only chance to catch it and prevent a run from scoring was to lay out.
“When that ball was hit, it was kind of hard to read initially,” Margot said via Rays interpreter Manny Navarro. “You saw that it kinda was drifting off, so I was able to take that extra little leap to make the catch.”
The diving grab with two outs and runners on first and second was the obvious defensive play of the day Thursday in the 4-0 season-opening win over Detroit.
It came right after the Rays had taken a 3-0 lead and when run prevention becomes so important. That is what the Rays have valued from Margot in the past and what they had been hoping to see from him again. It is the type of defense they got from him last season until he took a terrible crash into the wall and missed two months with a knee injury.
Kevin Cash admired the play after Margot bounced back up.
“Healthy, he looks healthy,” the Rays manager said were his thoughts. “That was kind of the Manny that before he got injured, that’s what he did. ... the closing speed on that … it was certainly play of the day.”
Added Randy Arozarena, via Navarro: “He’s the only person that makes that play; he’s the best.”
Remembering Dave Wills
There was a pregame moment of silence for long-time radio broadcaster Dave Wills, who died unexpectedly March 5. Rays players wore a decal on their batting helmets in his honor, as they will do all season. The broadcast crew hung one of Wills’ shirts on his chair in the booth and placed a blank scorecard next to his microphone.
Like Kevin Kelly, the Rays told Luke Raley that he was making the team weeks before Thursday’s roster deadline. Unlike the reliever who never told a soul — including his parents — Raley couldn’t help himself. “I gave my parents a heads up, so they could be here,” he admitted.
It was a good thing. On his very first opening day, the lefty slugger who hit .325 with five homers this spring (but was 1-for-12 as a pinch-hitter), had a pinch-hit, RBI single in the Rays’ two-run, sixth inning.
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“You want to see a guy transition from a great spring into a big opportunity met on opening day, whenever he got his chance,” Cash said. “And he came up and opened the game up.”
The 26th opener in franchise history included several nods to the first, a March 31, 1998, matchup with the Tigers: Thursday’s anthem was performed by an ensemble led by Belinda Womack, who also sang at the inaugural game. The Rays wore their white Devil Rays throwback jerseys, which they also will wear for all Friday home games. And Richie Garcia, the home plate umpire for the 1998 game, was introduced from the stands, where he was watching his son-in-law, Vic Carapazza, work first base. … The Rays are 14-12 in openers. ... Longtime Ray James Shields threw the first pitch, from the rubber, to his brother Jeremy, with signing scout Fred Repke behind him. ... The Rays unveiled their 2022 AL wild card banner.
There were no violations of the new pitch clock or shift rules, and the game was played in a quick 2 hours, 14 minutes. …. Pete Fairbanks’ one-hit ninth inning extended his scoreless streak to 23 innings, third-longest active mark in the majors. … Reliever Colten Brewer, sent to the minors by the Rays, instead went to the Yankees, via an assignment clause in his contract. ... At 22 years and 29 days, Wander Franco was the second-youngest Ray to homer on opening day after Carl Crawford, who was 21 and 238 days when he hit a walkoff three-run blast in 2003. … The Rays have an unusual Friday off, with the series against Detroit resuming Saturday.
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