Devil Rays 6, Blue Jays 5
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP)—Akinori Iwamura’s confidence never wavered.
Tampa Bay’s biggest offseason acquisition took another step in leaving behind a poor spring training Friday night when he hit his first major league homer and finished 4-for-4 in the Devil Rays’ 6-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.
“I feel great pressure, but I’m enjoying it,” the five-time Japanese League All-Star said through a translator.
Iwamura reached on a bunt single in the ninth inning and sprinted home to score the winning run on B.J. Upton’s infield single with two outs.
Delmon Young erased a 5-3 deficit with a two-run homer off B.J. Ryan (0-1) in the ninth, then Iwamura set the stage for an exciting finish with a perfect bunt up the third-base line. Elijah Dukes’ two-out single sent Iwamura to third and Upton drove him home with a high chopper that shortstop John McDonald was unable to field cleanly.
“You take them any way you can,” Upton said. “It got the job done. We got a win and that’s all that matters. It doesn’t have to look pretty.”
The Devil Rays led 3-0 before Toronto scored three runs in the seventh off right-hander James Shields. The Blue Jays went ahead on Troy Glaus’ two-run homer off Shawn Camp in the eighth, and felt good about their chances of holding the lead with Ryan on the mound.
After all, he had saves in 14 consecutive appearances dating to last season.
But Ryan, who appeared in just four games during spring training because of a sore back, faltered badly after getting Rocco Baldelli to foul out to begin the ninth.
“There are no excuses when I’m out there pitching,” Ryan said. “I’ve just got to get out there and make some pitches and let the guys behind me make some plays.”
Jae Kuk Ryu (1-0) pitched 1 1-3 scoreless innings to get his first big league win before a crowd of 38,437, just the fifth home sellout in Tampa Bay’s 10-season history. The Devil Rays improved to 5-5 in home openers.
Iwamura, Upton and Ty Wigginton all homered off Toronto starter Gustavo Chacin, who allowed three runs and six hits in six innings. It was the second time the Devil Rays have hit three homers off the left-hander, who has yielded seven in four lifetime starts at Tropicana Field.
Iwamura, who signed a $7.7 million, three-year contract in December, is sizzling after batting .220 in spring training. He had three singles and has scored six runs and reached base in nine of 13 plate appearances in Tampa Bay’s first three games.
“A lot of people were questioning his spring, but I felt this is a solid young professional. He’s proved it up to this point,” Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
“He’s done a lot of really good things offensively and defensively. It’s all about confidence. Right now, I’d have to believe after three games, his confidence is pretty high.”
The Devil Rays starter retired 13 in a row before Alex Rios singled with two outs in the seventh and scored on Greg Zaun’s triple that skipped past Young in right field. Aaron Hill followed with a RBI double that bounced over the wall in center field and Reed Johnson tied it with an RBI single that finished Shields.
Chacin has allowed 18 homers in 27 career road starts. … Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who grew up in St. Petersburg, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. … The sellout was the smallest among the five in franchise history, and the first not to draw at least 40,000. The capacity for Tropicana Field is listed at 38,437. Last year’s home opener drew 40,199.