Season after season, the Tampa Bay Rays manage to put together one of the best bullpens in baseball. That has always been an incredible feat given their low payroll, but it becomes even more impressive when realizing the general variability in relievers’ performances that exists throughout baseball, with players going from among the best in baseball one year to out of a job the next. The Rays finally got a taste of that on Opening Day as Jake McGee, coming off a dominant season that saw him manage a 1.95 ERA, completely collapsed versus the Orioles, leading to a 7-4 loss in a game the Rays otherwise did everything possible to win.
David Price took the ball for the Rays for his second career Opening Day start and was not at his best but fought to give the Rays a strong outing. Price went 6 innings allowing 2 runs on 7 hits, striking out 5 while walking 2. Both runs came on a 2-run homer by Matt Wieters on a changeup left up in the zone. Price had just one 1-2-3 inning, in the 5th, but he kept the Orioles off the board other than the Wieters home run and departed the game with a 3-2 lead.
Ben Zobrist finally got the Rays on the board in the 4th inning, when he victimized Orioles starter Jason Hammel with a laser home run into the right field seats to pull the Rays within 2-1. Two innings later, the Rays’ offense went right back at it against the former Ray Hammel and came away with the lead in the game. Desmond Jennings tied the game with a double into the left field corner and two batters later, Zobrist came through again, delivering a sac fly to put the Rays ahead 3-2. Zobrist and Jennings both had big games, with Zobrist going 2 for 3 and Jennings going 2 for 4, also stealing a base. But their efforts would go for nought after Jake McGee’s implosion.
McGee replaced Price for the 7th and the inning began innocently enough with a Steve Pearce groundout. The the Orioles got a groundball single up the middle from Brian Roberts and another from Nick Markakis, and suddenly McGee was in trouble. He came back to strike out Manny Machado, though, and it looked like he would escape. Instead, the entire game changed as Adam Jones put the Orioles back in the lead with a 2-run double, and after Wieters was intentionally walked, Chris Davis drilled a back-breaking 3-run home run to give the Orioles a 7-3 lead. The Rays got one run back in the 8th on a Sam Fuld RBI groundout, but that was all they could get as the Orioles came away with a 7-4 win.
The Rays have to be a little stunned after this one as a pitcher they know can dominate hitters on a daily basis simply didn’t have it and ruined an otherwise strong game. Price wasn’t sharp but held the Orioles down and the offense wasn’t great but took advantage of the few opportunities it did have, however McGee’s negated what could have been a nice win. After a 2012 opener that saw the Rays get a first inning grand slam by Carlos Pena off of CC Sabathia and a walk-off hit by Pena off of Mariano Rivera, this game was certainly on the opposite edge of the spectrum. It reminds the Rays, though, that they can’t afford to get complacent in an AL East that looks to be as competitive as ever and that key players will struggle and they’ll have to find a way to pick them up and persevere beyond the obstacles ahead.
It was a tough way for the Rays to lose on Opening Day, but they were able to get several strong performances and simply have to shake their heads about the McGee performance and do everything they can to compensate when it happens again. The Rays take on the Orioles again at 7:10 PM on Tuesday night with Jeremy Hellickson going up against Wei-Yin Chen as the Rays hope to come away with their first win of the season.