ST. PETERSBURG -- To date, Friday's regular-season opener -- a 7-6 win over the Yankees that saw the Rays score two ninth-inning runs off Mariano Rivera -- easily ranks as the best in franchise history.
"It was a great way to start the season," manager Joe Maddon said. "For me, honestly, the first game of the season, I can't remember anything like that any place that I've been. It was that well fought out from both sides.
"But you're going to see that every time we play [the Yankees] -- and every team in this division -- and we're going to have to maintain that kind of mental level as long as we can, as we go outside of the division. Playing these teams does bring out the best in you. There's no let-up with any component of their team."
The way the final inning played out was a testament to the point to which the Rays have evolved, according to Maddon, who credited much of the way the team played at the end of Friday's game to the experience they've gained in the postseason.
"Our guys have a different believability about the game, about what we can and cannot do," Maddon said. "Until you do those things, it's hard to believe you can do something like that in the latter part of the game. ... I think we're confident, and at the same time, we're not arrogant about it. There's a confidence minus arrogance, which I kind of like."
Some interesting side notes from Friday include:
Ben Zobrist tripled off Rivera during the ninth inning to drive home the tying run, then scored the winning run on Carlos Pena's single. Zobrist, the Rays' super-utility man, is now 3-for-3 with two triples and a double in his career against Rivera.
Heading into Friday's contest, Rivera had been 60-for-61 in save opportunities for his career against the Rays and had converted his last 27 chances against them.
Pena's first-inning grand slam was only the second in Rays Opening Day history and the first at Tropicana Field. Fred McGriff hit the only other Opening Day slam for the Rays on April 3, 2000, at Minnesota.
Rays will send Upton on rehab stint soon
ST. PETERSBURG -- Center fielder B.J. Upton, on the 15-day disabled list with lower back pain, is ready to begin a rehab assignment that should lead to his rejoining the Rays in the near future.
"I feel good," said Upton, noting that a stint with Class A Advanced Charlotte will be his first destination.
Manager Joe Maddon said that Upton was "doing well."
"He's really getting antsy," Maddon said. "He wants to get out there and do it. I think [head athletic trainer] Ronnie [Porterfield] wanted him to get about 25 or 30 at-bats.
"The big thing is to make sure his legs are well, that he's not going to get hurt running. And also throwing -- when you haven't run or thrown for a while, those are two big concerns, beyond just the fact that you're going to get your timing at the plate. So it's going to take at least that many at-bats or days to come back up here."
Maddon estimated that Upton's rehab stint will last approximately 10 days. He did not rule out having Upton join the team during the final stages of its upcoming three-stop road trip, but the manager made that scenario sound unlikely.
"We'll kind of do this almost like it's Spring Training all over again -- the beginning part, where you play sporatically every day, where you build up to the number of innings and at-bats," Maddon said. "That sort of stuff."
Maddon added that the most likely scenario would see Upton rejoin the Rays on April 20, when they start a three-game series against the Twins at Tropicana Field.
Maddon comfortable with fluid relief roles
ST. PETERSBURG -- Looking across Tropicana Field at the Yankees' bullpen this weekend, Rays manager Joe Maddon might understandably find a few reasons to be jealous. New York has just about the surest possible thing at closer in Mariano Rivera -- Friday night's blown save aside -- as well as a dominant eighth-inning reliever in David Robertson, with Rafael Soriano available to pitch the seventh and an array of specialists to employ whenever needed.
The Rays don't have that luxury, not with closer Kyle Farnsworth on the disabled list and a much more fluid bullpen situation. But they do have plenty of viable options to pitch at any point during the final innings, and Maddon will look to use them wherever he can to get the most out of his relievers' talents.
"I think a lot of teams like the idea of, 'You pitch the seventh. You pitch the eighth. You pitch the ninth,'" Maddon said. "And if you have Soriano, Robertson and Rivera, you might be able to do that kind of thing. We don't.
"We're going to match it up the way we do, more by leverage moments and purely by matchups. ... They all have the potential to get the last out of the game, and you may see a lot of different guys get the last out of the game. We will not shy away from any guy."
The Rays called on six of their seven relievers in Friday night's season opener, with Josh Lueke being the only unused man out of the bullpen. They combined to throw four scoreless, hitless innings, with four walks and three strikeouts. Fernando Rodney pitched the top of the ninth and got the win, and he was preceded by Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, Burke Badenhop, Wade Davis and J.P. Howell.
That order figures to change on a game-to-game basis, but Maddon will continue to use his relievers in situations where the club's scouting and data suggest they'll find the most success. That's all the Rays can do, Maddon said, without the seventh-, eighth- and ninth-inning certainties they see in the visitors' dugout.
"We have to have guys who are going to step up," said left-hander David Price, Saturday night's starter. "J.P.'s going to have to step up, Peralta -- all those guys. Lueke's going to have to come in and do a good job for us. It's a chance for guys to kind of put their faces on the map for us -- Badenhop and them -- and this is a good chance for them to shine."