In his return to the Tampa Bay Rays, Carlos Pena got the team's 2012 opener off to a strong start. He finished it in even more spectacular fashion.
After Pena lifted the Rays to a walk-off win over the New York Yankees, the AL East rivals continue their season-opening series Saturday night at Tropicana Field.
Pena, who spent four of his best seasons with the Rays before playing for the Chicago Cubs in 2011, signed a one-year deal in January to return to Tampa Bay.
After batting .107 in the spring, the lefty slugger celebrated his homecoming with a grand slam off CC Sabathia in the first inning Friday. He made it even more memorable by plating Ben Zobrist with a single off Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Rays a 7-6 victory.
"Your heart starts racing in that moment and you try to control yourself as much as possible," said Pena, the Rays' all-time home run leader with 145. "I tried to slow myself down and breathe and take it one pitch at a time, as easy as you can possibly make it. Instead of building the situation up, you try to bring it down."
Pena hasn't always been able to make things easy against New York. He was a career .225 hitter off Yankees pitching before Friday, including 4 for 30 (.133) with 15 strikeouts over his previous 11 games against them.
While the Rays are hoping to build on their emotional win, the Yankees look to bounce back from the surprising defeat. Rivera had converted 60 of 61 career save opportunities against Tampa Bay before Friday, including 27 straight dating to 2005.
"When you see him blow one, it's shocking," manager Joe Girardi said. "It's going to happen. It happened. It's baseball."
Girardi's club will try to rebound by handing the ball to Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda, who signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Yankees in January after four seasons with the Dodgers, posted a career-best 3.07 ERA last year but went just 13-16 in 32 starts. He was tied for the third-most losses in the majors.
The right-hander is 3-8 with a 4.33 ERA in 11 career starts against AL opponents, including 1-2 with a 3.06 ERA in 2011. He has never faced the Rays.
Pena is 1 for 3 with a strikeout against Kuroda.
David Price will take the mound for Tampa Bay, hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 2011 campaign. After going 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA and finishing second in the AL Cy Young voting in 2010, he went 12-13 with a 3.49 ERA last season. He was winless in his last seven starts, including one in the postseason.
"I feel good right now and I'm ready for Saturday," Price said after his final spring outing Monday. "I liked everything I was throwing. ... Just working on efficiency and getting deeper into games."
Price is 4-2 with a 4.10 ERA in 12 career starts against the Yankees. The Rays are 8-4 in those games.
Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher, who scored a run and drove one in Friday, is 10 for 22 with a home run and seven walks lifetime against Price.
Looking to give his veterans regular breaks from playing in the field this season, Girardi will likely have Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter DH on Saturday. Jeter is 5 for 34 (.147) with one RBI and 10 strikeouts in his last nine games at Tropicana Field, where the Yankees have lost five straight.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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