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MLB Opening Day 2016: The Best Opening Days in Tampa Bay Rays History (Part two!)

Saving the best for last

The return of Carlos Pena
The return of Carlos Pena
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Yesterday was part one, which included only the Devil Rays days.

Today, we move on to the post-exorcism Tampa Bay Rays, and two of the best moments in team history that coincidentally occurred on Opening Day.

So let's get started.

2010: Deja Vu

In 2010, the Rays were coming off a down year, despite finishing above .500 for just the second time in team history. Just 18 months past their first World Series,  they were out to prove that they could still contend and compete in the powerhouse that is the AL East.

James Shields got the start for the Rays, facing Kevin Milwood, and Big Game would blink first as he surrendered solo homers to Adam Jones and Luke Scott to put Tampa Bay in an early hole. However, the Rays would strike back in the fifth after a leadoff double from Pat Burrell -- inspiring hope he could return to his pre-Rays days -- and then a Jason Bartlett single brought him around to score.

Immediately, though, Shields would yield another solo homer, this time to Matt Weiters, to again make it a two run game.

Not to be deterred, Evan Longoria led off the bottom of the frame with a solo home run of his own, again making it a one run game.

Both starting pitchers exited after this point and the bullpens traded zeros for the next couple of innings when the bottom of the ninth approached.

The Orioles called upon Mike Gonzalez to attempt to close out their first victory of the season, and he got off to a solid start, striking out Pat Burrell --thereby shattering those hopes that he could return to his pre-Rays self.

Sean Rodriguez stepped up and laced a single to left. Kelly Shoppach, making his team debut as a pinch hitter for Dioner Navarro,   promptly drilled a ball into the gap for a double. With one out, a one run lead, and runners on second and third, Gonzalez decided to walk Bartlett intentionally to get to the 2003 Opening Day hero, Carl Crawford.

Crawford would then turn on an inside pitch and send it down the right field line, falling in fair and easily scoring Rodriguez and Shoppach for the thrilling, come from behind, walkoff victory.

2012: (:

Finally, although 2012 didn't have the Rays reaching the postseason -- not for a lack of trying, posting a 90-72 record despite the absence of Longoria for most of the season -- it included perhaps the greatest opening day in the history of the franchise.

The past off-season, the Rays had undergone a minor overhaul, bringing in new catcher, first baseman, designated hitter, and second baseman. The first baseman they brought in was actually returning to the Trop for an encore performance -- he was Carlos Pena, signed a one year deal. Pena had been the team's main home run culprit from 2007 to 2010, shattering almost every Rays offensive record in 2007.

But Pena brought more than just his bat to the team, as he was known for his infectious personality and leadership skills, which helped guide the Rays to winning seasons. When he was signed, no one expected him to produce like his former glory days, they just liked having him back.

So, when he took his first plate appearance on Opening Day in 2012, the crowd let him know it.

After a quick top half of the first, the Rays came up and immediately got something going against CC Sabathia. Desmond Jennings walked and Evan Longoria singled, a Jeff Keppinger groundout would move them both into scoring position with two outs. With lefty destroyer, Sean Rodriguez due up, Sabathia decided to walk him to get to the weak split Carlos Pena.

When Pena stepped into the box, he received a thunderous ovation and it continued that way throughout the tension filled at-bat. Pena promptly got ahead in the count and eventually worked it out to 3-2. The runners were off on the pitch as Sabathia lifted his leg and delivered. The ball tailed high and away, but just close enough for Pena to extend his arms and get the barrel of the bat on the ball, sending it soaring over the right field wall:  grand slam home run.  Welcome back, Carlos!

A raucous celebration ensued, but it would be short lived as the Yankees retaliated quickly, as they putting up two runs in the second, with a four spot in the third to give them a 6-4 lead. Not to be deterred, Evan Longoria stepped up again on Opening Day, launching a solo homer during the bottom of the third to make it a one run game. Then the pitchers settled in as the teams traded zeros all the way until the ninth inning.

The Rays actually had a chance to tie the game in the eighth, as they had runners on first and third, but squandered the opportunity as three straight batters struck out.

Onto the bottom of the ninth, with the nearly impenetrable Mariano Rivera on the mound to close it out.

Desmond Jennings led off the frame with a single up the middle, and then Ben Zobrist laced a drive into the gap in right-center field, allowing Jennings zip around the bases and score easily, tying the game at six.  Zobrist ended up at third with a triple, and was the potential winning run with the heart of the Rays order due up.

So, the Yankees decided to walk both Evan Longoria and Luke Scott back-to-back to load the bases for Sean Rodriguez, who would battle against Mariano, eventually striking out.

This set the stage for Carlos Pena once again.

With one out, Pena stepped into the box, again with the bases loaded, this time with one away. After falling behind, 1-2, Pena took Rivera's next offering and drilled it to the gap in left-center field that would have cleared the bases if need be. However, the Rays just needed Zobrist to cross home plate, and when he did, a wild celebration took place as the Rays defeated the Yankees, 7-6.