Monday, 4 a.m.
The result was impressive enough, and it's hard to blame the Rays – or their fans – for enjoying the moment.
After all, when a team drubs an opponent that finished 16 games ahead of it a year ago, that's cause for celebrating. When a team wins its first Opening Day in three years, that's a reason to party. And when you find yourself nodding when someone suggests that this Rays' team has a little more in the tank than first advertised, well, that's pretty cool, too.
But the truly impressive thing about the Rays' victory over the regal Yankees on Sunday was this.
It was the way they did it.
It was the complete domination of the rich kids who live in the mansion on the hill. It was pitching, and it was hitting, and it was fielding, and it was rubbing the Yankees' nose in it. It was the impression – if only for a day – that the Rays could do this fairly regularly, even with a third of their lineup missing the game. It was George Steinbrenner rolling in his grave.
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It was 7-3, Tampa Bay, and it was enough to make you reconsider a team that finished last season. It was Archer and Longoria and Morrison and Kiermaier and Colome and whoo-boy. It was only one game, but it was quite a game. Yeah, it was only one game, but at the very least, it ought to count double.
That was the impressive thing about the Rays' efforts. It re-opened the floor for discussions about how good this team
might be, especially when Matt Duffy and Colby Rasmus and Wilson Ramos get a piece of the lineup.
Okay, okay. It was one game. Perhaps you should be cautious about your celebration. The Yankees can turn it on Tuesday, or in the other 16 times the two play. The division is a meat-grinder. So, yeah, you can take this with the shrug of the shoulders.
On the other hand, when have the Rays had the chance to celebrate? Why not pump a first into the air when you feel it? There may yet be solemn moments to come. You can be depressed later.
A day like this hints that there are other such days to come, however. The Rays pitched well enough. They hit well enough. They fielded well enough. They ran the bases well enough. They won the clutch moments often enough.
Now, all they have to do is take care of those next 161 games.
Seriously, this may have been the best the Rays can play, but it was a higher ceiling than any of us suspected. Sure, you can write it off as a random game – the Rays had a few of them last year, but their memory was buried by 6-2 defeats. But if the Rays are ever good again, won't it happen like this? With a flash of excellence and a quick start?
Examine the Rays' lineup. What isn't there to like?
Designated hitter: Corey Dickerson. Dickerson went one for five with two strikeouts. I'm not crazy about him as a leadoff hitter; he swings too hard. But Dickerson did lead off the game with a single, which is kind of the point of the job.
Centerfield: Kevin Kiermaier is an instigator. He had two hits, two walks and a stolen base. He didn't have any circus catches, but that's because Archer did such a good job.
Third base: Evan Longoria drove in the first run of the season, and he hit the first home run of the season. If you were worried that Longo would dip after a good season last year, the first day certainly didn't reflect it.
Second base: Brad Miller didn't look quite as smooth as had been hinted, but he had two hits to help the Rays' attack. Miller will settle down at second. The interesting thing will be his bat.
Right field: Steven Souza Jr. was the only player in the Rays' lineup without a hit. He did have a walk. But Souza also had two more strikeouts. He simply has to improve his average and cut down on his strikeouts.
First base: Logan Morrison went the first 37 games of the season last year without an RBI. He got three on Monday. If he can continue to swing a hot bat, the Rays are a much more potent team.
Shortstop: Tim Beckham is having a bit of a career resurgence. After he was disciplined for loafing last year, I thought he was done. But has good hands, and while he'll never be Buster Posey (the guy the Rays should have taken when they drafted Beckham, he could be valuable until Duffy returns.
Left field: Mallex Smith was impressive roaming into foul territory to make plays, and he made a nice one in left-center to cut off an extra base hit. If Smith can hit (he had a bunt single), he'll be welcome until Rasmus is ready.
Catcher: The Rays have chased Derek Norris in the past, so they're glad to have him. He just got off a plane, so he hasn't had time to acclimate. But let's agree. The Rays desperately needed an upgrade behind the plate.
Pitcher: Chris Archer lost 19 games last year, and it was hard not to be frustrated every time he trotted to the mound.
Archer still tends to get too cute, but he had a solid day Sunday. Kiermaier said he thinks Archer will give us all a ride this year; let's hope it's not over the fence.
Relief pitcher: Danny Farquhar. Farquhar retired the Yankees in order in the eighth with two strikeouts. The bullpen remains the key for this team.
Relief pitcher: Austin Pruitt became the fourth rookie pitcher to appear for the Rays. He gave up a run, so it wasn't a great outing, but the other pitchers are impressed with him.
Closer: Alex Colome pitched a clean inning to notch his first save. If the Rays are successful, Colome may get an opportunity to get more than the 37 saves he had last year.
“You sit here and try to be a spectator throughout the game and watch what your other teammates are doing, certain things like that,” Kiermaier said. “Literally everyone contributed today, one way or another. Mallex Smith running around out there in left field, running things down and doing a great job for his first time playing here. Longo and LoMo swung the bat really well. Brad did as well too. If we can have that contribution 1-9, we are going to be a tough team to beat. Pitchers did a great job today. Made it a little interesting there at the end, but we are the Rays, we are good at doing that.
The Rays are home against Tuesday night against the Yankees.