Span leads improbable comeback by Rays

by Gary Shelton on March 30, 2018 · 2 comments

in Tampa Bay Rays

Span triples on his "best day in baseball./CARMEN MANDATO

Span triples on his "best day in baseball./CARMEN MANDATO

Friday, 4 a.m.

On the first step of the journey, there was magic.

Span's triple made the difference not Rays./CARMEN MANDATO

Span's triple made the difference for the  Rays./CARMEN MANDATO

There was an improbable comeback. There was a hero coming home (and sending teammates there, too). There was timely hitting (and very little otherwise). There was solid defense. There was a solid bullpen. There was a victory over an old rival. There was a division-lead grabbing win.

Also, there was fun.

Lots of it.

Hechavarria just misses on a dive into the hole./CARMEN MANDATO

Hechavarria just misses on a dive into the hole./CARMEN MANDATO

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Kiermaier scores in the eighth for the Rays./CARMEN MANDATO

Kiermaier scores in the eighth for the Rays./CARMEN MANDATO

The Tampa Bay Rays came from a 4-0 deficit in the eighth inning Thursday night, taking a 6-4 victory in their opening game. Denard Span, a throw-in in the Evan Longoria deal, won the game with a bases-loaded triple on a full count with two men out in the eighth.

Duffy had a key double in the eighth./CARMEN MANDATO

Duffy had a key double in the eighth./CARMEN MANDATO

This was a game that seemed born of a Hollywood script. Span had no idea if he was going to make this Rays team, let alone start for it on Opening Day. If not for the sentimentality of a guy starting in front of his hometown crowd, perhaps he would not have.

This was the game that Span has waited a decade to play. He was home, but nothing was promised. You get the feeling that if the Rays had found a taker for his contract, they would have shipped him out quickly.

As it is, it all added up to what Span agreed might have been his best day in baseball.

Think of it. You are home, and your friends and family are watching you play. Your infant son is watching you for the first time. And the first two pitches? You don't see either of them.

Colome earned his first save of the year./CARMEN MANDATO

Colome earned his first save of the year./CARMEN MANDATO

You work the count full, and you know Red Sox reliever Carson Smith doesn't want to to issue his second walk (and Boston's fifth of the inning). So Smith comes in with a sinker, and Span connected. The ball went high and far down the right field line, just behind Mookie Betts' reach.

"My heart started racing," Span said. "I heard the roar of the crowd. If I could have cried, I would have, but I was running."

Span's hit drove in three runs and gave the Rays' a 5-4 lead. Adeiny Hechavarria's infield single brought home span, and the Rays had their victory.

Gomez reacts during his first game as a Ray./CARMEN MANDATO

Gomez reacts during his first game as a Ray./CARMEN MANDATO

"That was huge," said Brad Miller. "That was pretty wild. It was a pretty loud environment and really intense. But he's a veteran guy."

The comeback seemed so unlikely because the Rays seemed so far behind. It was 4-0, but with Chris Sale pitching, it felt like 40-0. The Rays' bats were covered in band-aids after what Sale did to them.

Through six innings, he had nine strikeouts and allowed just one hit.

Cash enjoyed  opening day./CARMEN MANDATO

Cash enjoyed opening day./CARMEN MANDATO

Then came the eighth, and Daniel Robertson walked. Matt Duffy, hurt most of last year, doubled to right, knocking in a run. Kevin Kiermaier walked. Carlos Gomez walked.  Brad Miller walked, forcing in a second run.

Then it was Span's show.

"That was pretty exciting," manager Kevin Cash said. "I imagine he's got a lot of people here.  He was kind of the right guy at the right spot right there. We saw where they were positioned and seeing Denard this spring, we saw him pull some balls down the line. Fortunately for us, he did."

Robertson scored a run in the Rays' rally./CARMEN MANDATO

Robertson scored a run in the Rays' rally./CARMEN MANDATO

Odd the way things worked out. In the second inning, a ball hit by Eduardo Nunez landed between Span and Kiermaier, playing their first game together. Both outfielders pulled up, and the ball bounded between them for a two-run inside-the-park homer.

"Either of us could have had it," Kiermaier said. "But if you collide, you could get hurt. Who knows what would have happened."

Well, for one thing, Span might not have been there in the eighth.

Pruitt threw two shutout innings./CARMEN MANDATO

Pruitt threw two shutout innings./CARMEN MANDATO

"Everyone greeted me with energy, with a bunch of love," Span said. "In my 9 1/2 or 10 years, that was probably the best postgame celebration  by any team I've been on."

Okay, it will probably be a while before you change your mind about the Rays. If you doubted their bats, well, they managed just four hits. But their bullpen was perfect, and Kiermaier made a running catch on the first play of the game, and Miller dug a low throw out in the ninth. Archer wasn't as good as Sale, but he was okay (six hits in six innings). And, yes, they get credit for a comeback.

It was a nice step for the Rays, in other words. They didn't look like world-beaters, but they were probably sharper than most of us have given them credit for being.

Tonight, when Blake Snell faces ex-Ray David Price, they get another chance.

Archer was frustrated after leaving behind 4-0./CARMEN MANDATO

Archer was frustrated after leaving behind 4-0./CARMEN MANDATO

 

 

 

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill MYERS March 30, 2018 at 8:50 am

OK, one down! An impressive comeback! I am still not a believer yet! So many new players! Maybe too many! The rest of the teams don’t have paper on them yet. That could be a good thing for awhile.

Reply

Gary Shelton March 30, 2018 at 9:31 am

Maybe. I remain unconvinced, too. But it was fun, and Span has class.

Reply

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