April 6, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Carlos Pena (right) is congratulated by third baseman Evan Longoria (3) after hitting a grand slam in the first inning against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Opening Day: An Unexpected Slugfest at the Trop

Sabathia versus Shields. In 2011, those two matched up for a 1-0 Yankee win and a 2-1 Rays win. Opening Day was going to be a pitcher’s duel. Not this time.

Desmond Jennings led off the bottom of first with a walk. Two batters later, Evan Longoria singled and then a groundball gave the Rays second and third with 2 outs. Up came Sean Rodriguez to the plate, and Joe Girardi to the mound for the Yankees. Girardi was obviously not there to take Sabathia out of the ballgame in the first inning. He told him a few brief words and returned to the dugout. Sabathia intentionally walked the righty-hitting Rodriguez to bring up Carlos Pena in his first plate appearances in his return to the Rays. Pena entered the at-bat 4 for 35 against Sabathia and he’s coming off a year in which he hit just .133 against lefties. But this time would be different. Pena worked the count to 3-2. Then Sabathia left a fastball up. And Pena did not miss it. Pena drilled a long home run into the right field seats to give the Rays a 4-0 lead. Things were looking up. The Rays had a lead with their ace on the hill. But today was not you average day.

The Yankees got 2 runs back in the top of the 2nd on an RBI groundball by Raul Ibanez and a wild pitch by Shields. Then things came apart in the 3rd. Shields allowed singles to Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez, giving the Yankees 1st and 3rd, and after Mark Teixeira popped out, Nick Swisher hit a groundball to first. Pena fielded as he saw Cano sprint home, and he thought he had a chance so he threw to Jose Molina in an attempt to tag out Cano at home. But Cano slid in ahead of the tag, and the Yankees were within 4-3. The next batter, Raul Ibanez, hit a three-run home run to give the Yankees a 6-4 lead. Pena’s incorrect decision on the groundball to hit that should have been a sure out at first led to an additional Yankee run. In the bottom of the inning, Evan Longoria blased a no-doubt home run into the left field seats to pull the Rays’ within 6-5. The game could have been tied. All we can say is “it happens.”

Neither Shields nor Sabathia had anywhere near the type of Opening Day they wanted. Jamie lasted 5 innings, allowing 6 runs on 9 hits, striking out 3 and walking 3. Shields actually recorded 10 groundouts compared to 0 flyballs and threw 66 of 104 pitches for strikes, but he was awfully and could not put away hitters. Sabathia lasted 6 innings, allowing 5 runs on 8 hits, striking out 7 while walking 3. The big thing for him was two home runs allowed.

This game turned into a bullpen chess match. Maddon replaced Shields with J.P. Howell for 0.2 IP before bringing in Wade Davis (1.o IP), Burke Badenhop (1 batter, an E5 on Longoria), Jake McGee (1.0 IP) and Joel Peralta. After the proven formula of using Shields his ace failed, all of Maddon’s bullpen moves paid off as they allowed four walks but no hits and no runs. Peralta allowed a long flyball to Mark Teixeira, but it stayed foul. After walking Teixeira, Peralta struck out Nick Swisher to escape the jam.

Girardi brought in ex-Ray Rafael Soriano for the 7th, and he worked around a walk to pitch a scoreless inning. Then came David Robertson, who dominated hitters in 2011 as he led AL relievers in strikeouts. Sean Rodriguez led off the the inning with a walk and Carlos Pena followed with a single, advancing Rodriguez to third. But that didn’t matter to Robertson, renowned for his dramatic escapes for jams in 2011, who went right back down to business. Robertson struck out Stephen Vogt in his first MLB at-bat, struck out Jose Molina as he failed to put the ball in play on a two-strike squeeze play, and then struck out Matt Joyce to get out of trouble. Some things never change.

But others do. Desmond Jennings singled to begin the 9th against the immortal Yankees closer. Then came Ben Zobrist to the plate. And he disturbed the natural order of things, drilling a triple to right-center to tie the game at 6. Two intentional walks followed and then Sean Rodriguez struck out. Up came Carlos Pena to the plate- Pena, the game’s hero, but who also gave up the run that for a long time was the difference in the game. But there was no denying what Pena would be remembered for. Pena drilled a long flyball that landed in left-center for a walk-off single as the Rays emergerd victorious 7-6 on Opening Day. Fernando Rodney (1-0) was the winner for the Rays while Rivera (0-1) took the loss.

It felt like a playoff game at the Trop on Friday. It was a game to remember and what a way to start the season!

Tags: Alex Rodriguez Carlos Pena CC Sabathia Evan Longoria James Shields Raul Ibanez

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