By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
ST. PETERSBURG — It may have been Opening Day for the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees, but Chris Archer had already pitched on a big stage this year.
Just a little three weeks removed from his four perfect innings in a World Baseball Classic start for Team USA, Archer carried that momentum into a season-opening win for the Rays.
In front of 31,042 fans – the 12th straight home-opener sellout for Tampa Bay – Archer and the Rays began the season with a 7-3 victory.
“I think we played really good baseball today,” Archer said. “We’re going to enjoy it for the next few hours, and then have the off day tomorrow, turn the page, and hopefully get another ‘W’ on Tuesday.”
Archer tossed seven strong innings, allowing just two runs on seven hits with five strikeouts and a walk. His 108-pitch outing was the most a Rays starter had thrown since Albie Lopez had 113 in 2001.
It also was Archer’s first career opening-day win in three attempts.
“I think the tone was set just by the way Arch kind of came out and was really under control of himself, the game;” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Even the first two runs they scored, he had some awkward plays behind him, but he didn’t let it snowball.”
The Rays feasted on Archer’s counterpart, Masahiro Tanaka, early and often. Tanaka was yanked after just 2.2 innings, and surrendered a career-worst seven earned runs.
Tanaka gave up eight hits in that short span, as he quickly dug himself a three-run hole in the first inning.
Two of his seven runs allowed came off the bat of Evan Longoria in the second inning. The veteran baseman hit a wall-scraper off the top of the five-foot fence into 162 Landing, which could possibly be the lowest-hit home run in the majors all season long.
“I was surprised it got out,” Longoria joked after the game. “I knew I kind of top-spun it, but I figured it would be some free advertising for the new Ducky’s (a restaurant he co-owns) deck down there.”
Longoria’s shot was the fourth opening-day homer of his career, setting a Rays’ record. The third baseman also set team records Sunday in consecutive opening-day starts (nine) and hits (13).
Logan Morrison picked up his third RBI of the day with a solo home run in the third inning. Morrison didn’t tally his first homer or third RBI until May 18 (game 31) last season.
“I sure didn’t,” Morrison said of feeling the importance to a quick start after last season. “Every season is a new season. Every game is a new game. It’s not what you’ve done, it’s what you’re going to do.”
Tim Beckham followed Morrison’s home run with a double to extend his career-high hit streak to 11 games, datingto last season. Beckham later came around to score on a bunt single from Mallex Smith, who reached second base on a throwing error by Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez.
Kevin Kiermaier reached base four times in the win, drawing two walks with a double and a single. He scored a team-best two runs and also stole a base.
“It’s been years since a team I’ve been a part of has won the first game of the season,” Kiermaier said. “The whole order contributed one way or the other. It’s a great way to come out of the gates for us.”
When Derek Norris hit a single in the eighth inning it meant every Rays player in the starting lineup reached base at least once.
The teams are off today before getting back into action at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday with Jake Odorizzi pitching for the Rays against the Yankees’ C.C. Sabathia.