ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Rays raised another playoff banner to the roof at Tropicana Field, then went out and played like a team expecting to make another run at a postseason berth.
David Price set the tone by taking a shutout into the eighth inning, Desmond Jennings made a diving catch for the first out of the season, and Evan Longoria, Wil Myers and Matt Joyce delivered timely hits Monday as the Rays opened with a 9-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.
“It feels good to go out and get the ball rolling in the right direction,” Price said.
The hard-throwing lefty allowed two runs and six hits over 7 1-3 innings to beat R.A. Dickey in a matchup of 2012 Cy Young Award winners. The Tampa Bay ace walked one and struck out six before a crowd of 31,042— the Rays’ ninth consecutive sellout for a home opener.
Before the game, the Rays raised a banner in left field in celebration of earning an AL wild-card spot last season. Senior baseball advisor Don Zimmer, beginning his 66th year in baseball, took part in the festivities, riding onto the field in golf cart and getting a hug from manager Joe Maddon and each Tampa Bay starter when the lineups were announced.
Joyce drove in three runs with a sacrifice fly and two-run double off Dickey (0-1), who yielded six two-out runs in five innings. Longoria got the Rays going with a first-inning RBI single and Myers drove in two more when he singled with the bases loaded in the second.
Price, meanwhile, limited the Blue Jays to four singles and had only allowed two runners past second base before Maicer Izturis opened the eighth with his second hit of the day. Pinch-hitter Erik Kratz followed with a first-pitch, two-run homer over the center field wall.
“Outstanding performance,” Maddon said of Price. “Good for us and for him. He’s put so much into preparation for this season. … It’s validation of what he’s done to get ready.”
Toronto’s Jose Reyes left the lineup after his first at-bat because of a tight left hamstring. The star shortstop led off the game and was robbed of a hit on a diving catch by Jennings. He was replaced in the field by Ryan Goins and was scheduled to undergo an MRI.
“If you’re going to be optimistic, it’s just one game, you got it out of the way, I guess,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “But it didn’t start out good. They hit Dickey around pretty good. … When you’re facing Price, the great ones, they smell it.”
The budget-minded Rays spent generously by their standards, boosting one of baseball’s lowest payrolls from $62 million to a franchise-record of around $80 million in order to keep most of last year’s AL wild-card roster together and make a run at a fifth playoff berth in seven seasons.
A decision to not trade Price — instead signing him to a $14 million, one-year deal — was a big part of that.
The 28-year-old lefty became the Rays’ first 20-game winner and edged Justin Verlander in AL Cy Young balloting two years ago. He got off to a slow start in 2013, but finished strong after spending more than a month on the disabled list, leading the majors in innings, complete games and fewest walks per nine innings after July 2.
The Rays also won three times last year in games involving matchups of Cy Young winners, with Price beating Dickey on May 9 and CC Sabathia on Aug. 24, as well as going nine innings against Tim Lincecum without getting a decision in an extra-innings victory over the Giants on Aug. 3.
Dickey dropped to 14-13 with a 4.21 ERA last season after winning 20 games and NL Cy Young honors with the Mets two years ago. The 39-year-old knuckleballer is off to another shaky start after allowing six runs, five hits and walking six over five innings against essentially the same Tampa Bay lineup he went 3-1 against in 2013.
“Nobody is going to panic, but at the same time, there’s certain things we’re going to have to address,” Dickey said. “Every team in a championship season has to work through some adversity. We’re having to do that from day 1 here. It’s one game. We have a long, long way to go.”
NOTES: Reyes sat out several games during the final week of spring training with tightness in the same hamstring. He missed 66 games last season because of an injured left ankle. … The Rays haven’t lost a home series to the Blue Jays since April 2007. … The latest renovations to Tropicana Field included the removal of about 3,000 seats, dropping regular-season capacity to 31,042.
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