The Rays found their bats today, posting a decisive win over the Yankees as they opened their 2021 home season.
Fans, Trop staff and journalists all seemed happy to be back in the ballpark. The last time the Rays had fans at the Trop was for the 2019 ALDS.
And we saw these babies raised to the rafters. Ooh, wait, let’s check in with Yankees fans — are celebrations allowed?
And then we had a lot of offense.
The Rays struck first, putting together a 2-run second against the no longer very effective Cory Kluber. Yandy Diaz reached on what was ruled an infield error, Joey Wendle singled, and then Willy Adames knocked in the first run of the game with a very long double. One sac fly later, the Rays were up 2-0.
Meanwhile, Rich Hill was cruising into the third inning. He was painting corners and keeping hitters off balance. He looked completely different from the pitcher who struggled in his first start. But with 2 outs in the third, Tyler Wade reached on an infield single that maybe could have been played better by Adames. That’s the sort of not-sharp defense that has been plaguing the team of late.
But what followed — ground rule double, hard single, home run, giving Yankees four runs — wasn’t weak defense. I don’t think I’m saying anything particularly clever when I note that the difference between a successful 41 year old finesse pitcher and a mess of a 41 year old finesse pitcher is about 1.5 inches of plate, and Hill was simply serving up some meatballs that inning.
But the 4-2 Yankee lead was short-lived. The Rays came back in the bottom of the inning to take a 5-4 lead. A bases clearing Joey Wendle double was the big hit in this inning. But those hitters were just getting started.
The Yankees brought in Nick Nelson to relieve Kluber. The next inning, the big hit was a Brandon Lowe double. By the end of the inning the Rays had an 9-4 lead.
Hill was gone after six, replaced by Hunter Strickland who was recently added to the roster to replace injured Pete Fairbanks.
Just when I was thinking how unusual it was for the Rays to have all this offense but no dingers, Willy Adames opened the bottom of the seventh inning with a solo shot that made the score 10-4.
WILLY ADAMES GOES OPPO! @willya02 with his 1st homer of the year adds to the @RaysBaseball cushion! Rays up 10-4 on the Yankees!— Bally Sports Sun: Rays (@BallyRays) April 9, 2021
Watch on Bally Sports Sun & stream it here: https://t.co/vzYXaIWPLo #RaysUp pic.twitter.com/TdmlE73c9X
Hunter Strickland pitched a clean seventh inning, which encouraged Cash to push him out for the eighth. That didn’t go quite as well; DJ LeMahieu hit a wall-scraping home run to cut the lead to 10-5
But that was all the scoring, as Chris Mazza pitched an uneventful ninth, and the Rays started off their home season with a win.
The Rays offense was a real team effort. Everyone played a role — the only player who didn’t get on base, Brett Phillips, had an RBI sac fly. Austin Meadows had three hits; Tstutsugo, Diaz, Wendle and Adames had two each.
Some closing notes:
On Rich Hill: his line — 4 runs in 6 innings - doesn’t look elite, but Hill was actually quite impressive. He struck out 7, walked none. The Yankees did all their damage in that one third inning sequence, they had no other baserunners against him. Considering that Hill had looked pretty shaky in his first start and most of spring training, this performance is something to build on. Throwing 83 pitches, he also worked toward getting further stretched out for future starts. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves here, but if Hill can bring this kind of quality on a regular basis, all the Rays’ off-season maneuvering will look a lot better.
On Stu Sternberg, Rays fan: During the 4th inning rally, Stu Sternberg was on camera for an Opening Day interview, which reminded us all that while we might sometimes have some choice words for Stu Sternberg, budget conscious owner, or Stu Sternberg, guy making threats to St. Pete while cozying up to those Montreal home-wreckers, Stu Sternberg Rays fan is a gem. He gets genuinely excited as the game unfolds and it’s fun to watch with him.