The Rays spring training was a harbinger for things to come for the 2012 season as the team never really had their full squad together and the defense suffered day to day lapses that were very un-Ray like. As opening day crept closer one player after another seemed to scare the fanbase as they waited on a medical report for some ailment or another. Some scares were just that as Evan Longoria's hand injury was just a bruise and Matt Moore's oblique injury wasn't serious. Others were not so fortunate including Sam Fuld and Kyle Farnsworth whose injuries cost them half the 2012 campaign and Robinson Chirinos whose concussion cost him the entire season and possibly his career.
All the problems that the team faced in spring training seemed to vanish as April came to an end. The Rays found themselves in first place a game ahead of the Baltimore Orioles (don't worry, they'll fade!) as they rolled to a 15-8 record boosted by an impressive 9-1 home record. It was the second best April record in club history second only to the 2010 squad that finished April with a 17-6 record. Despite the record the month was a roller coaster of a ride.
For instance, the Rays began the season 4-5 and their pitching staff posted a 6.75 ERA (82 ER in 76 innings) allowing 84 hits, including 10 home runs, and issued 42 walks. Over their final 14 games (11-3) their pitching staff posted a 2.41 ERA (34 ER in 127 IP) allowing 112 hits, including 11 home runs, and issued only 38 walks.
The Rays offense got off to a good start averaging 4.6 runs per game (106 runs in 23 games) and hit 28 home runs led by Matt Joyce with 5 and followed by Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena who hit 3 each.
Several other individuals shined in April including David Price and James Shields who each earned 4 victories, Evan Longoria sported a .435 OBP, Ben Zobrist drew a league high 19 walks, and Fernando Rodney surprisingly was tied for the American League lead with 7 saves.
April was a strange month indeed. The month opened with Carlos Pena hitting a Grand Slam off CC Sabathia in his first plate appearance back and delivering the game winning hit off Mariano Rivera. On their first road trip the Rays came back in the 9th inning to defeat Justin Verlander to defeat the Tigers 4-2. After losing 4 games in a row including back to back games where the Red Sox posted double digit in runs James Shields worked 8.1 innings of scoreless ball and Fernando Rodney got the last 2 outs to defeat the Red Sox 1-0. Brandon Allen was picked up on waivers and in his second plate appearance with the Rays blasted a mammoth pinch hit walk-off home run to sweep the Angels. The month ended with Evan Longoria limping off the field with a minor hamstring injury and his replacement Elliot Johnson came through with his first ever walk-off hit to defeat the Mariners 3-2.
April 6th: Carlos Pena returns in a big way as Rays defeat Mariano Rivera and Yankees 7-6.
Joe Girardi made the first questionable managerial move of the 2012 season by walking Sean Rodriguez - in the bottom of the first inning!!!! - to load the bases to bring up Carlos Pena. C.C. Sabathia had owned Pena in their career matchups but Pena made Girardi pay by launching a grand slam in his first plate appearance back with the Rays to give the Rays an early 4-0 lead. The Yankees battled back to take a 6-5 lead entering the 9th and had Mariano Rivera on the mound. Desmond Jennings led off the inning and scored on a game tying Ben Zobrist triple. Rivera followed Zobrist triple by issuing intentiona walks to Evan Longoria and Luke Scott to load the bases for Sean Rodriguez. Rivera struck out Rodriguez to to bring Carlos Pena to the plate and helaced a single to left to plate Zobrist and give the Rays the 7-6 walk-off victory.
April 11th: Rays plate 4 in the 9th to defeat Verlander and the Tigers 4-2
Justin Verlander had quieted the Rays bats through the first 8 innings and held a 2-0 lead. Jim Leyland decided to stick with Verlander for the ninth inning and the Rays rallied to score 4 runs for a 4-2 victory.
The 9th inning began with a Jeff Keppinger single and advanced to 3rd on a 1-out single by Desmond Jennings. Carlos Pena worked the count full and the payoff pitch was not only a ball but a wild pitch as well allowing Keppinger to score cutting the Tigers lead to 2-1. Evan Longoria followed with a single to plate Jennings to tie the game at 2-2 and end Verlanders day. Daniel Schlereth walked pinch hitter Elliot Johnson to load the bases and was replaced by Jose Valverde who gave up a 2-RBI single to Ben Zobrist to give the Rays a 4-2 lead. Fernando Rodney came in to earn his third save on the year.
April 16th: James Shields dominates Red Sox as Rays get much need 1-0 victory
The Rays bullpen had been used heavily during a staggering 4 game losing streak. The Rays needed a big victory to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Red Sox in Fenway Park and they needed to give their bullpen a rest. The game was scoreless into the 7th inning when Daniel Bard walked Evan Longoria to score the only run of the game.
James Shields delivered 8.1 innings of shutout baseball allowing only 4 hits while striking out 5 and walking 2. Fernando Rodney entered the ninth inning with Dustin Pedroia on first and 1-out and things got a little scary for the Rays after Pedroia advanced to 2nd on a groundout to first off the bat of Adrian Gonzalez. Rodney intentionally walked David Ortiz before striking out Cody Ross to end the game.
April 26th: Rays receive walk-off blast from Brandon Allen to defeat Angles 4-3
Brandon Allen pinch hitting for Jose Molina stepped to the plate with 1-out in the bottom of the 9th inning with a man at first and the Rays trailing 3-2. Allen absolutely crushed Jordan Walden's 2-2 97 mph fastball to give the Rays the 4-3 victory and complete the sweep of the Angels.
April 30th: Elliot Johnson delivers walk off single as Rays defeat Mariners 3-2 in 12
Felix Hernandez and Jeremy Hellickson were both at the top of their games as King Felix tossed 8 inning of 1 run ball and Hellickson allowed 1 run in his 7 innings of work.. The Mariners grabbed a 2-1 lead on a Jesus Montero homer off Wade Davis in the top of the 11th but the Rays responded off Brandon League who surrendered a 2-out RBI single to B.J. Upton to tie the game at 2-2. Brandon League returned to work the bottom of the ninth and after retiring Desmond Jennings for the first out he issued a walk Ben Zobrist. Carlos Pena followed with a single and Zobrist advanced to second to bring Elliot Johnson to the plate. Johnson who was in the game because of "The Injury" to Evan Longoria had not had a walk-off hit at any level of professional baseball came through with his first as he delivered a single to give the Rays a 3-2 victory.