Tampa Bay-Baltimore: Rays Split First Series

John LongballContributor IApril 4, 2008

Going into the season without ace Scott Kazmir and the oft-injured Rocco Baldelli, things were already looking bleak for the Rays. All the hype of the offseason, trading Delmon Young and signing Cliff Floyd, seemed already be going to waste.

The Rays opened the series against the Baltimore Orioles, a team most people assume will take the Rays' place in the basement of the AL East, with 2007 breakout pitcher James Shields on the hill.

The term firing on all cylinders comes to mind when you look at the Rays' first game. Shields pitched seven strong innings, allowing two runs on five hits, and three walks. The bullpen, the Rays' achilles heel last season, pitched two scoreless innings between three pitchers.

On the hitting side, everything seemed to be working. Eight of the nine starting hitters got at least one hit, including a home run by offseason acquisition Eric Hinske. This appeared to be the Rays' coming-out party, they would be contenders this year, no problem.

Game-two spirits were high as the man acquired in return for Delmon Young took the hill. Matt Garza had gone from fighting for a spot in a rotation, to the third man and a new hope for a struggling franchise.

Everything appeared to being going the same way as the night before had. Cliff Floyd hit a three-run home run in the top of the first inning, and the Rays had hit the ground running. Brian Roberts hit a solo shot in the bottom of the first inning for the Orioles, a tough start for Garza, but the next three batters were easy outs and life goes on.

The Orioles tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the third. The Rays sought to regain control in the top of the fifth inning tacking, on three more runs, including a two-run home run by Carlos Pena. Garza was unable to keep the lead, giving up two runs in the bottom of the sixth before being removed from the game.

Now it was time for the bullpen to shine. The new hope for the Rays. Filled with strong arms who would stop blowing leads for the big three. Al Reyes took the hill in the eigth inning with a one-run lead and some solid work under his belt from the first game.

Two outs and four runs later he was removed from the game. The Rays were unable to recover from the three-run deficit and lost 9-6. Garza's first start spoiled and another long season of bull-pain woes could be in order.

The Rays look to turn it around as they move on to play the Yankees.