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The Rays beat the Tigers on MLB Opening Day, just like they planned sports

STREET. PETERSBURG — When you get past all the pomp of Opening Day, from the smoke and flashing lights, the player introductions and the swarm of TV cameras in the clubhouse after the game, the circumstance is finding a way to win the game.

And the Rays did exactly that on Thursday, beating the Tigers 4-0 in the style they hope will carry them through the next six, or potentially seven, full months.

Shane McClanahan delivered a commanding six-inning start. José Siri gave them an early lead with a home run in the third inning, and they added crucial hits by Randy Arozarena and pinch hitter Luke Raley in the sixth inning, then a home run by Wander Franco in the eighth inning.

Manuel Margot made a run-saving defensive play, a run-running catch, and dunk to snub a Tigers play in the seventh inning. And three relievers combined to get the final nine outs.

“That’s what we worked on all spring,” manager Kevin Cash said deadpan. He then added: “A very Rays-like win. We will register a lot for those types of wins.”

Thursday marked the start of the Rays’ 26th season, and they have high expectations of not only extending their streak of consecutive playoff berths to five, but also winning their first championship.

“We never know what a season will bring,” principal owner Stuart Sternberg said before the game, “but this could be the one.”

Former Rays starter James Shields reacts after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. (HIEDRA CEBALLO | Hours)

The Rays will also spend much of the year looking back, celebrating their first 25 seasons (or mostly the last 15), going back to their opening game on March 31, 1998, also against the Tigers.

Having James Shields, a key pitcher and popular player in his remarkable 2008 transformation from cellar-dweller to contender, throw out the first pitch was a good way to start, as he was warmly received by the 25,025 sellout crowd at bustling Tropicana Field. .

“Our fans were tremendous, it was loud,” Cash said. “Everyone who planned the entrances, that makes the guys very excited, they did a good job on it. A lot of the videos were really great, well done. Our new scoreboard looked good. So all in all it’s a really fun day to be a part of.”

McClanahan, the product of USF making his second straight Day 1 start, did his part to make it so, allowing six hits but never in much trouble, striking out six.

“He threw a lot of quality pitches and gave us a start we’ll never complain about — six innings, no runs,” Cash said. “We will check in every night.”

When it was over, after a relatively efficient 87 pitches, the Rays turned to three of their top-ranked relievers for one inning each: Colin Poche (who escaped thanks to Margot’s catch), Jason Adam and Pete Fairbanks.

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José Siri runs from the dugout during introductions and then delivers once the game starts.
José Siri runs from the dugout during introductions and then delivers once the game starts. (HIEDRA CEBALLO | Hours)

The Rays’ offense is the biggest question this season, following the big drop in production in 2022 and the anemic performance in Cleveland’s two-game playoff sweep in which they scored one run overall.

Siri delivered that final run of 2022, with a solo homer, and did the same with the first of 2023, a 393-foot shot to left by Detroit starter Eduardo Rodriguez.

While Siri is primarily known for his speed and remarkable defense in center field, he also has the ability to hit some home runs: 16 last year and 20 in 2021 between Houston’s Triple-A and major league teams.

“I am very confident in my power,” he said, through team interpreter Manny Navarro. “Sometimes I have to not try too hard. Sometimes I think the looser I am, the more the ball jumps off the bat.”

The Rays believe the depth and versatility of their lineup — a combination of power, contact hitters, speed and left-right options — will be productive enough.

“It’s no secret that we have a good pitching staff,” Margot said, through Navarro. “If we’re able to get at least five runs, we know they’re going to put up with us.”

With McClanahan holding the 1-0 lead, they broke through to add in the sixth.

A walk by Yandy Diaz and a one-out single by former Tiger Isaac Paredes got them going, then Arozarena greeted reliever Jason Foley with an RBI single, and pinch hitter Luke Raley, who made his first opening day roster. with a strong spring, delivered another.

Rays shortstop Wander Franco (5) celebrates a solo home run in the eighth inning.
Rays shortstop Wander Franco (5) celebrates a solo home run in the eighth inning. (HIEDRA CEBALLO | Hours)

Franco made it a power show again with his 402-foot throw to left center field leading off the eighth.

“There were a lot of good at-bats,” Cash said. “At first, you never know what you’re going to find on opening day. … You see some early changes, maybe spreading out a bit more just because they’re too amplified. But after that first time through the order, the second time I felt like they were a little more like themselves, and we were getting some great at-bats.”

Overall it was a good way to start.

“Definitely,” Poche said. “The Rays win is pretty standard. I think we’re going to see a lot of those this year.”

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