It was reminiscent of Opening Day 2012 when the Orioles intentionally walked Evan Longoria with runners on second and third in the 10th inning of Sunday’s game. In the former game, Sean Rodriguez was intentionally walked by CC Sabathia before Carlos Pena took Sabathia deep for a grand slam, setting off pandemonium among Rays fans as they thought something special was beginning. It was not- a great April ended with an Evan Longoria injury, and a strong finish wasn’t enough as the Rays won 90 games but missed out on the postseason. This time, though, Ryan Roberts struck out following Longoria’s intentional walk and the game between the Rays and Orioles ended in an unsettling 4-4 tie. The Rays had a 4-1 lead before letting it slip away bit by bit, making the game feel even worse. But maybe that’s exactly what the Rays have needed. They can’t see something happen and assume grand results. It’s about finding sustained success no matter what happens and turning the what-ifs into what you accomplished. The Rays left 2012 in limbo after a very good season with a disheartening ending. As 2013 begins, the Rays understand that the only help they’re going to get is from themselves and they’re ready to do whatever it takes to finally turn their potential into reality.
Three players who will be keys to that happening for the Rays this season looked as good as ever on Thursday. David Price started for the Rays against essentially the same Orioles lineup he’ll face on April 2nd at the Trop and was dominant, going 4 innings allowing just 1 hit, striking out 3 while walking 1. Desmond Jennings hit out of the leadoff spot and capped a huge spring with an incredible night, going 4 for 5 with a stolen base and a run scored. And then there was Longoria, who did a whole lot more than get intentionally walked, going 2 for 3 with a majestic 6th-inning home run. He drove in 2 runs in the game, scored twice, and yes, he also drew 2 walks. The other 3 Rays hits in the game came from Sam Fuld, Yunel Escobar, and Kelly Johnson, all of whom went an encouraging 1 for 3.
Five minor league pitchers following Price and did not do a very good job, although Juan Sandoval kept the game tied with 0.2 scoreless innings in the 9th before Marquis Fleming struck out 2 while working around a walk in the 10th. Even in a meaningless spring training game, you always want to win, and a tie leaves you feeling like you’re in suspended animation. But the Rays will take it all in, the positives and the feeling that something’s off, and use it drive them forward. The Rays take on the Detroit Tigers in a home-and-home series the next two days to end spring training, with today’s game at 1:05 in Lakeland, and the big news before the game will be the announcement of the Rays’ decision about their 5th starter.