Opening Day in all fairness isn’t the complete, final measure of the season to come. The Yankees are probably thanking the spirits of Yankees past for that after the beat down Evan Longoria the Rays inflicted upon them Sunday afternoon.
But they’re probably also saying thanks to whomever aligned their bullpen to open. The pen showed the moxie the lineup lacked after the Rays piled up what proved the 7-3 final. Shame they couldn’t stop Longoria from hitting the season’s first bomb.
When the Rays jumped Masahiro Tanaka for three fast in the first and pile on another pair in the second after the Yankees get to within a run in the top of that frame, Tanaka and his partners could only sigh and think, well, there’s only a mere 161 games left to go.
But it didn’t look great for the Yankees when Corey Dickerson and Kevin Kiermaier opened the game with a single and a double, Longoria lofted a followup sacrifice fly to right, Brad Miller beat out an infield hit, and Tanaka loaded the bases with a walk to Steven Souza, Jr. that was uninterrupted by a single strike.
Eight balls and a mere three strikes to open. Then Logan Morrison—an outsize but often frustrating talent, who had his problems in Miami and Seattle, who made himself infamous for dubious tweets long enough before Donald Trump discovered the same sort of dubious practise, before the Rays got him in a November trade—slashed a strike-one pitch up the pipe to send home Kiermaier and Miller. And just like that the Yankees were in the hole.
The good news was Tanaka keeping the damage to those three runs. The better news was the Yankees getting two of them back on Rays starter Chris Archer’s dollar with one out on the ledger in the next inning. Starlin Castro beat out an infield hit of his own, Chase Headley singled to left on a 2-2 service, and Aaron Judge, one of the heralded Baby Bombers, doubled Castro home, before Headley came home while Ronald Torreyes grounded out to second.
The further bad news was Tanaka seeming to settle into a decent groove and bagging two quick enough outs to open the bottom of the second, the second a rip-roaring swinging strikeout of Corey Dickerson after opening him with ball one, before walking Kiermaier and paying the penalty when Longoria on ball one sent one over the left field fence.
The worse news for the Yankees was Morrison hitting one over the center field fence with one out in the third, Tim Beckham doubling to left on 1-2, and Gary Sanchez—the lead story of the Baby Bombers’ stretch last year—throwing Mallex Smith’s squib bunt in front of the late wild enough to second to let Beckham score the seventh Rays run.
The Yankees wasted runners enough, such as Matt Holliday grounding out to second with Greg Bird aboard on a walk to end the first, Brett Gardner stranding Judge with a comparable ground out in the second, and stranding Castro after he singled with one out in the fourth.
But the heartbreaker had to be leaving the ducks on the pond when Archer got Sanchez—who’d just missed a bases-clearing hit when his looper down the right field line landed foul by a hair—to ground one to shortstop in the seventh. The looper just missed closing the Yankee deficit to two.
Archer was tough as he had to be against the Yankees, with only the first lacking a strikeout and with deft enough pitching to his defense. The Yankee bullpen bulls were as tough as they needed to be and, whenever any of them looked vulnerable, showed a knack for squirming out of their own self-inflicted trouble.
Maybe that comes with knowing that now and then the other guys are going to be a little bit better than what you’ve got to face them. Just ask Adam Warren, who followed a one-two-three pair in the fifth and sixth with a tidy job of striking out Tim Beckham for the side after getting stuck for first and second in the seventh.
Then ask Chasen Shreve, who had two out and a man on first in the eighth when he let Dickerson have second on a wild pitch and the Rays load the pads when Longoria beat out an infield hit to follow. He threw Brad Miller a trio of unanswered strikes including a beauty for strike three called to end that dance on the precipice.
Just don’t ask them what the Rays were thinking when they poured out of the dugout to give Longoria a welcome-home party after that second-inning smash. You’d have thought it was 2011 again and he’d just parked the wild-card winner against the Yankees.
But you can’t blame a club finishing dead last in the American League East last year for celebrating something like that on Opening Day this year. The Rays already look better than they were last year. Beating the Baby Bombers on Opening Day does that for you.