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Sports

Yankee Closer Loses Opener

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ST. PETERSBURG - APRIL 06:  of the Tampa Bay Rays of the New York Yankees during the Opening Day game at Tropicana Field on April 6, 2012 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

ST. PETERSBURG – APRIL 06: of the Tampa Bay Rays of the New York Yankees during the Opening Day game at Tropicana Field on April 6, 2012 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

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By FRED GOODALL   AP Baseball Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) _ Carlos Pena hit an early grand slam
off CC Sabathia, then completed a ninth-inning comeback with an RBI
single off Mariano Rivera that lifted the Tampa Bay Rays to a
season-opening 7-6 victory over the New York Yankees on Friday.
Rivera (0-1) had been 60 of 61 in save chances against the Rays.

But after Desmond Jennings opened the ninth with a single against
baseball’s career saves leader, Ben Zobrist tripled home the tying
run.

The 42-year-old Yankees closer intentionally walked the next two
batters to load the bases and struck out Sean Rodriguez. Pena, who
was 0 for 11 lifetime against Rivera, won it by driving a 1-2 pitch
off the base of the wall in left-center field for his fifth RBI of
the game.

Pena, making his return to the Rays after a year away with the
Chicago Cubs, hit his slam in the first. Evan Longoria hit a solo
homer in the Rays third, and it stayed 6-5 until the ninth.
Rivera’s rough outing was the latest in a recent series of bad
outings by big league closers. Jose Valverde, Chris Perez and
Boston’s Alfredo Aceves all struggled a day earlier.

Sabathia yielded both of Tampa Bay’s homers, but later worked
out of a couple of tight spots to cling to the lead the defending
AL East champions took on newcomer Raul Ibanez’s three-run homer in
the third.

Reliever David Robertson escaped a jam in the eighth inning,
striking out Stephen Vogt, Jose Molina and Matt Joyce with runners
at the corners, seemingly setting up Rivera to close it out.
Fernando Rodney (1-0) struck out one in a perfect ninth to earn
the win in his debut for Tampa Bay.

The Rays, who’ve made the playoffs three of the past four years,
raised a 2011 AL wild-card banner to the left-field catwalk before
the game and Pena brought the sellout crowd of 34,078 to its feet
again in the bottom of the first when he sent a 3-2 pitch into the
right-field stands for his eighth career grand slam.

Tampa Bay’s career home run leader entered the day 4-for-35 with
two homers and 19 strikeouts lifetime against Sabathia, who walked
Rodriguez intentionally _ just the fourth intentional pass of the
young shortstop’s career _ to get to Pena.

The Yankees battled back with two runs in the second and four
more in the fourth, when Ibanez’s put them ahead 6-4. The offseason
free agent acquisition was 0 for 12 against Rays starter James
Shields, including a grounder to second base that drove in New
York’s first run, before getting his first hit for his new team.

With the 30-year-old Shields making the fourth opening day start
of his career, the Rays used a starting pitcher 30 or older for the
first time since May 24, 2007, at home against Seattle.

Shields made a start in Chicago the following game, beginning
what evolved into a major league record stretch of 764 consecutive
games started by pitchers under 30.

Shields allowed six runs and nine hits, walked three and struck
out three in five innings. The right-hander, who set Rays records
for complete games (11) and shutouts (4) while becoming a
first-time All-Star in 2011, also hit a batter and unleashed a wild
pitch that allowed a run to score in the second.

Sabathia, a 19-game winner a year ago, wasn’t sharp, either. The
31-year-old lefty struck out Pena twice to help himself through
jams in the third and fifth innings but wound up throwing 104
pitches in six innings. The Yankees ace allowed five runs and eight
hits, walked three and struck out seven.

Alex Rodriguez went 2 for 3 with a pair of walks and scored two
runs for the Yankees. He’s hit safely in all eight opening day
games he’s played for the Yankees.

NOTES: Some the Yankees sported T-shirts in the clubhouse before
the game with the slogans “Yankees 1” accompanied by a degree
sign on the front and “Mind Heart Guts” on the back. … With
Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth beginning the season on the 15-day
disabled list with a right elbow strain, Tampa Bay manager Joe
Maddon plans to fill his role by committee. RHPs Joel Peralta and
Rodney are among the candidates to get much of the work. …
Yankees LHP Andy Pettitte is scheduled to face Philadelphia
Phillies minor leaguers in extended spring training on Monday, his
second game action since ending a one-year retirement. Meanwhile,
RHP Michael Pineda, who’s on the disabled list because of right
shoulder tendinitis, played catch Friday for the second straight
day. … Looking to give his starters a regular break from playing
in the field this season, Yankees manager Girardi is expected to
have Rodriguez or Derek Jeter DH on Saturday.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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