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Good to be home

Exceptional offense and strong pitching give the Rays their first home-opening win, 8-1 over Toronto, in front of 41,546.


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001

[Times photo: James Borchuck]
Albie Lopez (32) shakes hands with manager Larry Rothschild after his victory, which made him the Rays' career leader in wins.
ST. PETERSBURG -- Maybe things are going to be different for the Rays this season. It certainly looked that way Tuesday on a splendid opening night at Tropicana Field.

There were new uniforms. A feverish crowd of 41,546. An explosive 15-hit offense.

And, for something completely different, a 8-1 victory by the Rays, their first win in four home openers.

For all the abuse they've taken and pain they've suffered, the Rays had plenty to feel good about.

Albie Lopez, the new ace of the pitching staff, went eight strong innings, and Doug Creek did the rest. Prized acquisition Ben Grieve delivered a two-run triple in his Rays debut. Vinny Castilla, coming off the worst season of his career, had two doubles and looked nimble in the field and on the bases. Greg Vaughn was on base four times. Steve Cox had three hits. Gerald Williams and Randy Winn homered.

"I don't think you could have drawn it up any better," Flaherty said.

"It was a fun game, a great opening day game," Cox said. "Your confidence is helped a lot by the way we played. It was a lot of fun. It was perfect."

Past home openers had not been much to celebrate for the Rays.

Not only was Tuesday's game the first time they had won, but when Cox scored on Fred McGriff's groundout to make it 2-1 in the third inning, it was the first time the Rays held a home-opening lead.

They were a success off the field as well. The announced crowd was the second largest of the four openers, topped by the 45,369 at the inaugural game. Overall, it was their second-largest crowd since the 1998 season.

The Rays spent the spring under new hitting coach Wade Boggs determined to improve what had been the least productive offense in the American League, and they came out swinging.

The Jays had an early 1-0 lead on Shannon Stewart's third-inning home run -- his second in two games -- but the Rays broke through with two runs in the third.

[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
Gerald Williams is greeted by Rays third-base coach Billy Hatcher after his sixth-inning homer.
Williams led off with a single. Cox rapped the second of his three singles, and Vaughn laced a double just inside the third-base line for the first run. McGriff's full-count bouncer to first scored Cox.

The Rays broke open the game with four runs in the sixth. Cox's leadoff single and a walk to Vaughn set up the rally, and after McGriff flied to right off lefty reliever Pedro Borbon, Grieve ripped a hard bouncer that went into the rightfield corner for a two-run triple. It was the fourth triple in Grieve's three-plus seasons in the big leagues.

Castilla, who had nine doubles in his injury-marred 2000 season, greeted reliever Kevin Beirne with his second double of the night, scoring Grieve. Bobby Smith followed with a hard single up the middle, and Castilla raced home just ahead of Jose Cruz's throw.

Williams extended the lead to 7-1 when he drove a 2-and-0 pitch over the leftfield fence leading off the sixth. Williams has hit the first Rays homer in two straight seasons.

Winn, a late-inning replacement for Vaughn, homered to center in the eighth.

"If we have 100 more games like tonight, we'll be pretty decent," McGriff said.

There was a moment early in the game when it appeared nothing had changed.

The Rays were ravaged by injuries their first three seasons, and it looked like they might be in for more of the same. Lopez fell awkwardly after fielding a ground ball in the second, mildly spraining his left knee. He writhed on the ground and needed a few minutes to recover. But he was able to stay in the game, and without effect.

"He jumped up and said, "Let's go,' and there's not a lot of guys who would do that," manager Larry Rothchild said. "That just tells you what kind of character he has."

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