MLB Opening Day 2018 appeared to be a sure win for the Boston Red Sox, who were leading 4-0 down the stretch. The Tampa Bay Rays managed only four hits against their American League East rival today. Yet in a dramatic comeback, the Rays prevailed in the game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, by a score of 6-4.
Red Sox starter Chris Sale dominated through six shutout innings in the first game of the 162-game regular season, giving up just one hit and striking out nine Rays batters, and exiting the game with a 4-0 lead. Reliever Matt Barnes, who had issues in the 2017 campaign, pitched a scoreless seventh.
The bottom of the eighth inning turned out to be a disaster for the defending AL East champion Red Sox, however, as WEEI reported.
“First, Joe Kelly allowed one run in the eighth, then loading the bases before giving way to Carson Smith. That didn’t go well. Smith walked in another run to cut the lead to two before giving up a 3-2, two-out, three-run triple to Denard Span. The wheels fell off in a hurry.
The Rays added an insurance run, and the Red Sox failed to score in the top of the ninth, although they brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Jackie Bradley, Jr., with Eduardo Nunez on second after he doubled.
The other Chris, Rays starter Chris Archer, also pitched six innings, allowing six hits and four earned runs, striking out six Red Sox batters.
Both Archer and Sale received no-decisions in the game, with Austin Pruitt picking up the win and closer Alex Colome getting the save.
Red Sox rookie manager Alex Cora opted against using closer Craig Kimbrel when the team got into trouble in the eighth.
“With Kimbrel only pitching two innings all spring because of extended time spent in Boston to be with his young daughter following heart surgery, there was a plan mapped out and it didn’t have him pitching in situations like Thursday.”
Lefty Bobby Poyner was ready, however, but was not brought into the game.
Opening Day 2018 started off with a bang, when Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier robbed Red Sox star Mookie Betts of an extra-base hit in deep center field on the game’s very first pitch. See clip below.
The Red Sox have supposedly adopted a new philosophy of aggressiveness at the plate, including swinging at the first pitch, rather than working deep into the count.
Nunez had an inside-the-park home run in the top of the second inning. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts had three hits for the Red Sox.
— Today in MLB (@TodayintheMLB) March 29, 2018
HOF Joe got a chance to call an inside-the-park home run on Day 1 … pic.twitter.com/feufIzB3DD
— Rob Bradford (@bradfo) March 29, 2018
As part of the Opening Day pre-game ceremonies, the entire roster of each team was introduced, and both squads lined up at the foul line for the unfurling of the U.S. flag and the singing of the national anthem.
The Opening Day game was a sellout for the attendance-challenged and revenue-challenged Rays, with a stated attendance of 31,024, but empty seats in the stadium were in evidence. The venue seemed about evenly divided between Sox and Rays fans.
The Rays are celebrating their 20th anniversary, with a memorabilia room adjacent to the Ted Williams museum at Tropicana Field.
In the offseason, the Rays traded homegrown franchise cornerstone Evan Longoria, as well as outfielders Corey Dickerson and Steven Sousa, Jr., and parted ways with several other players primarily for financial reasons.
In game two (and day two) of the four-game series, former Rays ace David Price of the Red Sox faces off against Blake Snell. During Spring Training, the Red Sox achieved the best record in the big leagues at 22-9-1.
Each fan in attendance on MLB Opening Day 2018 received a cow bell from the Rays, which is the traditional signature noisemaker at Tropicana Field well known to anyone who has attended a game there over the years or watched on TV.
The Boston Red Sox won the AL East last year with 93 wins, while the Tampa Bay Rays placed third in the AL East with an 80-82 record. It remains to be seen if the events of MLB Opening Day 2018 have any carryover effects for the rest of the season.