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“Do I like this team?” Evan Longoria said as he leaned against his locker in the Tampa Bay Rays clubhouse before the season opener against the Toronto Blue Jays. “I love this team. Sincerely, I think this is the best team, top to bottom, both from an athleticism standpoint and a clubhouse comradery standpoint.”
The 30-year old, two-time Gold Glove third baseman and long time face of the Rays is making his team record 8th Opening Day start for Tampa Bay. A bonafide “elder statesman” on the roster, Longoria was as excited about the new baseball season as anyone in the clubhouse Sunday.
“I just wanna win,” Longo said. “All I care about is winning. I think we have a lot of guys in here that are in that same stage (of their career) and that’s very important if you wanna have a successful team.”
Longoria chuckled when asked about his favorite Opening Day moment and, funny enough, it was the 2008 season. A season in which he was not actually on the Opening Day roster, but was called up a couple weeks later. He referenced how exciting it was that in his first season as a Major League ball player, he was able to experience a World Series run.
Only thing better than that would be finishing the job in 2016 – and everyone you talk to in that Rays clubhouse thinks this is the year it just may happen.
Second-year Manager, Kevin Cash, says a closer relationship with his players in year two have helped make this Opening Day different from last year.
“Still have the exact same excitement,” Cash said before the game Sunday. “Maybe more because we’re excited about our team and you know the players that much better. You’ve kinda built those relationships over a year’s time.”
There are, however, plenty of new faces on the Opening Day, 25-man roster for the Rays. Players like Curt Casali, Alex Colome, and Enny Romero all find themselves in unfamiliar territory but are all equally as excited.
“It means a lot,” Casali said. “A lot of hard work and preparation has gone into being where I am today. I feel confident in my abilities and our ability as a team. We all just kind of wait or turn until we get this opportunity. This is the one we want to remember and make good memories for.”
With MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred, in attendance, the first pitch of the 2016 season by Chris Archer was a ball high and outside to Kevin Pillar. The Blue Jays would waste no time in getting to the Rays ace tacking on a quick two runs before the second out was made. After a quick visit from pitching coach, Jim Hickey, Archer would strike out the next two hitters he faced to get out of the inning with no further damage.
Whatever Hickey said to Archer seemed to work as the righty would cruise through the next two frames notching a handful of strikeouts along the way. In the bottom of the third inning, Longoria would get the Rays on the board with a two-out single scoring Logan Forsythe.
The Jays would get the lineup moving, again, in the fourth inning thanks to an error by Logan Morrison at first and a Pillar single that scored the third run of the game for Toronto.
After five innings and nine consecutive strikeouts giving him 12 on the night, a franchise record for Opening Day, Archer would retire to the bullpen as lefty Enny Romero would take over in the sixth.
The 12 strikeouts by Archer not only made team history for Opening Day, but was also the first pitcher to throw a dozen punch outs since 2007 and a guy named “King” Felix with the Mariners.
After Romero dominated Jays hitters in the sixth for a quick 1-2-3, new Rays reliever Ryan Webb took over in the seventh to try and keep the deficit at just 3-1. After a strong seventh, Webb returned for the eighth only to give up a lead-off single to Encarnacion and then a 2-run bomb over the left field wall by Troy Tulowitski. Another new face, Dana Eveland, would come in to not only finish off the eighth inning but pitch a perfect top of the ninth as well.
It would take a huge rally in the bottom of the ninth for the Rays to come back from a 5-1 deficit and Corey Dickerson would kick it off with a long home run into the right field seats to cut the Jays lead to 5-2. Desmond Jennings would follow that up with a single to centerfield to finally chase Toronto starter Marcus Stroman and make way for Roberto Ozuna.
Kiermaier would add another run for the Rays on an RBI single that would score Jennings but that would be all she wrote on this 19th Opening Day for the Rays. Your final score: Jays 5, Rays 3
Jays v Rays tomorrow night with the first pitch from Tropicana Field set for 7:05. LHP Drew Smyly takes the hill for Tampa Bay against former Cy Young knuckleballer R.A. Dickey for the Jays.
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