I think Rogers Hornsby said it best when he famously remarked, “People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” We’re with you, Rogers.
There is just something special about Opening Day. No matter how many spreadsheets you’ve studied, and how many projections you’ve read, on Opening Day there is still that undeniable feeling of hope.
That feeling of, “you know what, maybe this is the year. Maybe the Rays will capture again the magic days of old. Maybe they’ll have a club house full of guys who just click and have fun doing it. Maybe the key players stay healthy this year, and live up to their lofty expectations. Maybe we shock the world.”
On Opening Day, all that still seems possible.
The bitterness hasn’t settled in just yet. Give it time. We’ll be cursing this team right along with the worst of the trolling commentariat at some points here and there for sure. But for today, that positive vibe can continue.
Right now, as I type this, the Tampa Bay Rays lead the league in attendance, they’ve got the best record in baseball, their charming ace sports an undefeated record, and their bearded slugging third baseman can claim the very first home run of this young season.
That is a pretty solid Opening Day in my book.
Ace leads the way
Someone mentioned in the comments that Chris Archer seemed to have a different demeanor on the mound today, compared to Opening Days in the past. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s experience, heck maybe it’s his success in the WBC, but it was hard to miss.
Chris Archer trotted to that mound bristling with confidence for seven innings. His slider wasn’t the filthiest we’ve seen it, but it was still still a solid pitch when he mixed it in with his fastball and change, and Chris battled out there inning after inning. He dug himself out of a jam in the second, and later in the seventh.
Archer dug deep, with well over a hundred pitches under his belt by the time he faced Gary Sanchez with the bases loaded, in what was a pivotal moment of the game. In years past, as Bradley Neveu mentioned in his terrific retelling of this inning earlier today, Kevin Cash may have opted to pull his starter in favor of someone the Yankees slugger hadn’t seen multiple times on the day. But not this time. This wasn’t last year’s Chris Archer. This is this year’s Chris Archer, and this guy came to play.
After retiring Sanchez to escape the jam, Chris could not contain his emotions, and expressed them accordingly, through his signature fist pump toward the ground. I can’t help but love how pumped this dude gets after big moments. Pure joy.
Lumbering Longo and LoMo
Chris Archer wasn’t the only star on the day, that is for certain. Evan Longoria extended the Rays lead in the bottom of the 2nd with a line drive homer to left field, just barely over the lowered wall and into the Ducky’s Deck. These would be his second and third runs batted in on an excellent day at the plate.
No recap of this day would be complete, however, without mention of one Justis Logan Morrison. Last season, LoMo did not record a single RBI in the entire month of April. He had three today, including a solo homer in the third inning to add to the Rays lead. LoMo went three for four on the day, with three runs batted in and an eighty-grade smile to go along with it.
2017 has Swagger
Today just felt different.
The body language looked different. The hustle was there. I can recall several situations on the basepaths today that would have had a completely different outcome without the extra hustle that Kevin Kiermaier and Brad Miller gave.
Was today perfect? Certainly not.
The replays continue to bog down the pace of the game. The Rays were the beneficiary of a questionable safe call that was somehow allowed to stand after a review (against the Yankees, no less!), and that almost certainly won’t be happening very often. Some may question Kevin Cash’s usage of Austin Pruitt with a five-run lead on Opening Day, and sure, those people are wrong, but the questions will and have already been asked.
A quick glance at the box score will note that Steven Souza Jr, from whom the Rays could really use a resurgence, was the only player who went hitless today. Evan Longoria made an error that could have been quite costly had it been made in a different situation, and had the potential to be quite costly even today.
This is Opening Day. This day is magical.
This is the start of something great. Sure, we’ll get to the point where we’re cursing the day we began to follow this team. We’ll be using hashtags to try and fire coaches and longing for the headline announcing the DFA of an underperforming player again soon. But not yet.
The Rays won in dominant fashion, in front of a sellout crowd and a nationally televised audience on ESPN, in a game that was wildly entertaining.
Today, we celebrate.