The Rays are known for winning games with solid pitching and defense, which they displayed in 2012 by recording 15 shutout games against their opponents. It was only 15 years earlier when the Devil Rays’ inaugural season opened in 1998, and pitcher Wilson Alvarez made history by throwing the first pitch of the franchise’s opening game on March 31. However, six days later, Alvarez and his teammates went down in the history books again, when they recorded the franchise’s first shutout game against the Chicago White Sox on April 5, 1998.
Alvarez dazzled in the first inning by striking out two of Chicago’s batters, but pitcher Jason Bere of the White Sox retaliated by also striking out two of Tampa Bay’s hitters in the bottom of the second inning. In the top of the third inning, the D-Rays displayed their deadly combination of pitching and defense working in tandem to create big plays as Chicago’s Mike Cameron was caught stealing second base. Alvarez threw the ball to first baseman Paul Sorrento, who threw it to second baseman Miguel Cairo, who sent it back to Sorrento to record the out.
That play was the jolt Tampa Bay needed as they stirred up some action in the bottom of the inning. Chicago’s Bere walked Dave Martinez, followed by singles hit by Kevin Stocker and Quinton McCracken. Martinez and Stocker scored off of Cairo’s single to center field. The D-Rays’ offense stayed hot as Fred McGriff led off the fourth inning by drawing a walk. McGriff went on to score off of Rich Butler’s sacrifice fly.
In the following inning, Alvarez gave up a single to Chicago’s Magglio Ordonez. But, the D-Rays’ defense came through for Alvarez in the following play by recording the inning’s final out with a ground ball double play from shortstop Kevin Stocker to first baseman Paul Sorrento to second baseman Miguel Cairo.
Fred McGriff continued to lead the D-Rays offense as his double in the bottom of the fifth inning allowed McCracken to score. In the next play, Cairo scored off of Bere’s wild pitch thrown to Sorrento.
In the top of the eighth inning, Tampa Bay reliever Esteban Yan gave up a hit to Chris Snopek, then walked Chad Kreuter. Yan escaped the inning by striking out Mike Cameron. Jim Mecir pitched for Tampa Bay in the ninth inning, only to give up a walk to Albert Belle. In the following play, Tampa Bay displayed their defensive prowess one last time while recording a double play to gain the game’s final out.
While shutout games are a regular occurrence in baseball, this game was important to the young Devil Rays because it showed what they were capable of achieving. As the D-Rays defense backed up the pitchers’ efforts to keep Chicago from scoring runs, the team’s productiveness inspired an equally prolific night for their offense. Fifteen years later, it is still games like these that remind the Rays why they have some of the best pitchers and defensive players in all of baseball.