ST. PETERSBURG — When you get past all the pomp of opening day, from the smoke and flashing lights, player introductions and the swarm of TV cameras in the clubhouse postgame, the circumstance is to find a way to win the game.
And the Rays did exactly that Thursday, beating the Tigers 4-0 in pretty much the style they are hoping carries them throughout the next six — or potentially seven — full months.
Shane McClanahan delivered a dominant six-inning start. Jose Siri gave them an early lead with a third-inning homer, and they added on with clutch hits by Randy Arozarena and pinch-hitter Luke Raley in the sixth, then an eighth-inning homer by Wander Franco.
Manuel Margot made a runs-saving defensive play, an all-out running and diving catch to snub a Tigers rally in the seventh. And three relievers combined to get the final nine outs.
“That’s what we worked on all spring,” manager Kevin Cash deadpanned. He later added: “A very Rays-like win. We’ll sign up for those types of wins a lot.”
Thursday was the start of the Rays’ 26th season, and they have high expectations to not only extend their run of consecutive playoff berths to five but to win their first championship.
“We never know what one season is going to bring,” principal owner Stuart Sternberg said before the game, “but this could be the one.”
The Rays also will spend much of the year looking back, celebrating their first 25 seasons (or mostly the last 15), going back to their inaugural game, March 31, 1998, also against the Tigers.
Having James Shields, a key pitcher and popular player in their remarkable 2008 transformation from cellar-dwellers to contenders, throw out the first pitch was a good way to start, as he was welcomed warmly by the boisterous Tropicana Field sellout crowd of 25,025.
“Our fans were tremendous — it was loud,” Cash said. “Everybody that planned the entrances — that gets the guys hyped up a lot — they did a good job of that. A lot of the videos were really cool, well done. Our new scoreboard looked good. So all in all, it’s just a really fun day to be a part of.”
McClanahan, the USF product in his second straight opening day start, did his part to make it so, allowing six hits but never in much trouble, striking out six.
“He made just a lot of really quality pitches and gave us a start that we will never complain about — six innings, no runs,” Cash said. “We’ll sign up for it every night.”
When he was done, after a relatively efficient 87 pitches, the Rays went to three of their high-leverage relievers for an inning each — Colin Poche (who escaped thanks to Margot’s catch), Jason Adam and Pete Fairbanks.
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The Rays’ offense is the bigger question this season, coming off 2022′s big drop in production and the anemic showing in the two-game playoff sweep by Cleveland in which they scored one run total.
Siri delivered that final 2022 run, with a solo homer, and did the same for their first of 2023, a 393-foot shot to left off Detroit starter Eduardo Rodriguez.
While Siri is known mostly for his speed and remarkable centerfield defense, he has the ability to hit some home runs also — 16 last year and 20 in 2021 between Houston’s Triple-A and big-league teams.
“I trust my power a lot,” he said, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “Sometimes I’ve got to not try too much. Sometimes I think the looser I am, the more the ball jumps off the bat.”
The Rays believe the depth and versatility of their lineup — a mix of power, contact hitters, speed, and left-right options — will be productive enough.
“It’s no secret that we have quite the pitching staff,” Margot said, via Navarro. “If we’re able to get at least five runs, we know that they’re gonna hold it up for us.”
With McClanahan making the 1-0 lead stand up, they broke through to add on in the sixth.
A Yandy Diaz walk and one-out single by former Tiger Isaac Paredes single got them started, then Arozarena greeted reliever Jason Foley with an RBI single, and pinch-hitter Luke Raley, who made his first opening day roster with a strong spring, delivered another.
Franco flipped it back into a power show with his 402-foot shot to left-centerfield leading off the eighth.
“There were a lot of good at-bats,” Cash said. “Early on, you never know what you’re gonna get on opening day. … You see some early swings, maybe expanding a little bit more just because they’re overly amped up. But after that first time through the order, the second time it felt like they looked a little bit more like themselves, and we were piecing big at-bats.”
Overall, it was a good way to start.
“Definitely,” Poche said. “Pretty standard Rays win. I think we’re gonna see a lot of those this year.”
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