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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Rays 6, Jays 5
Dramatic win to shout about
The Rays rally in the ninth for a victorious home opener.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 7, 2007
Akinori Iwamura celebrates scoring the winning run in the ninth on B.J. Upton’s two-out infield single.
[Times photo: James Borchuck]
Teammates congratulate second baseman B.J. Upton, center, with high-fives after he drove in the winning run. “This,” Upton says, “is the way we want to play all year.”
B.J. Upton, who hit a home run in the third, gets enough of the ball for an infield single to drive in the winning run.
ST. PETERSBURG - The upgraded stadium looked sharp. The crowd was large and loud. The owner was proud and happy. The president of Major League Baseball was glowingly optimistic.
But the best thing about Friday's sold-out home opener for the Devil Rays was the way it ended, players exploding out of the dugout in raucous celebration as Akinori Iwamura crossed the plate to give them a thrilling 6-5 walkoff win over the Blue Jays.
"This," B.J. Upton said, "is the way we want to play all year."
Going to the ninth down 5-3 - after blowing another lead - and having veteran closer B.J. Ryan who allowed four earned runs to the Rays in the past four seasons and hadn't blown a save against them since '04 looming on the mound, wasn't a good place to be. But these young Rays (2-1) are playing with confidence, and a couple of big hits and some small maneuvers made for a happy ending.
Rookie Delmon Young stepped up first, with Ty Wigginton on first, hitting a searing two-run homer to right on the first pitch.
Iwamura was next, capping a 4-for-4 night by dropping a perfect bunt single that died on the new slower FieldTurf. An out later, Elijah Dukes muscled a Ryan pitch through the infield for a single, and Iwamura, seeing the outfield playing deep, alertly went to third.
That left it to Upton, and as Dukes broke for second, he bounced a ball that shortstop John McDonald had to rush in on and couldn't make a play.
Iwamura raced home, thrilling the crowd of 38,437 that included Gov. Charlie Crist, MLB president Bob DuPuy and principal owner Stuart Sternberg.
"Even if I was a good writer, I couldn't have written anything better," manager Joe Maddon said. "We let it get away, and we got it back. I like the fact that we did not cave in. I felt the at-bats were going to be good in the ninth, and they were."
Iwamura's introduction to the majors continued as he got knocked over in the celebration and ended up on the bottom of the joyous pile. His welcome continued in the clubhouse when starter James Shields shoved a towel full of shaving cream in his face as he did interviews.
"Everyone's bigger than I am and I ended up underneath," Iwamura said. "But I was very excited to help the team win."
Young had a hand in the Rays losing their early 3-0 lead, making an unsuccessful attempt at a sliding catch that led to a triple for catcher Gregg Zaun in the Jays' three-run seventh.
"I think Delmon kind of redeemed himself," Maddon said.
On the end of the bench, Upton, Carl Crawford and Edwin Jackson were thinking he would do just that. "I don't know if we called it, but it was definitely on our minds," Upton said.
Young claimed there was no special significance or motivation for his first homer of the season, that it was simply a matter of his bat meeting a Ryan fastball that was out over the plate. But he did note the criticism he has received for swinging so often at the first pitch. "Now you don't care that I swung at the first pitch," he said.
Homers by Wigginton, Upton and Iwamura put the Rays ahead, and Shields worked six strong innings. But the Jays tied it in the seventh, then went ahead when Shawn Camp allowed Troy Glaus' two-run homer.
The day seemed special from the start. Fans began milling about the parking lots by late morning, and thousands were lined up with the doors opened a little after 4, with Sternberg, team officials and players there to greet them.
Sternberg was especially pleased that the game sold out in advance, just the fifth sellout in 726 home games, and a noticeable improvement from two years ago, when the Rays opened against Toronto but sold just 26,018 tickets and only about 17,000 showed up.
"It means everything," Sternberg said. "What's most important is that people want to come."
DuPuy said he knew things were improving when he got stuck in traffic for an hour.
"This is clearly one of our rising success stories," he said. "The ballpark looks magnificent. It's a welcoming place. The fans have enthusiasm. The direction is positive."