The Tampa Bay Rays have started the 2017 baseball season as if they were trying to make you reconsider.
The Rays, last in the American League East a year ago, ran their record to a franchise-best 5-2 start to a season Sunday with a 7-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. The Rays are currently in second place in the AL East, a half-game behind Baltimore.
This time, the Rays competed hard enough that their angst showed a couple of times. Center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who had three hits, was ejected for the first time in his career in the eighth inning. And right fielder Steven Souza, who had a key three-run homer, helped to ignite a benches-clearing brawl when he went hard into Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzski.
Still, the Rays had nine hits and came back from a two-run deficit. Jake Odorizzi gave up two hits to the first four batters he faced, then didn’t give up another one through six innings. He retired 16 of the final 17 batters he faced.
Catcher Jesus Sucre hit a home run and drove in two more runs with a single. Rookie Daniel Robertson had two hits.
Souza is now tied for third with a .417 batting average, and he has struck out only twice in seven games. The last two seasons, he has struck out 303 times.
“It’s just a week,” Souza said. “We have 155 more games if my math is right. We have a game in New York; we’re still in the division. These are important games. More so, if I can help our team win on a daily basis so we can be in the World Series, that’s all that’s going to matter to me.”
Souza wasn’t concerned with the tempers flaring.
“I’m not going to play every game and wonder if Tulo is going to get upset about it,” he said. “I’m playing hard, and if he thinks that I’m trying to be malicious, he clearly doesn’t know who I am. It’s unfortunate that it turned into something like that because it was just baseball. Hopefully, we can just squash it and move on, because I’m really tired of having a feud with that.”
Kiermaier said he didn’t know he had been ejected until teammate Daniel Robertson told him on the bench.
“That was my first time (being ejected),” he said. “It’s not really how I pictured my first ejection — I wish I would have gotten my money’s worth. I definitely thought I had some low pitches.
“I know I can’t get tossed from a game with my defensive resume. I didn’t do a good job of holding my anger in the moment back, and he tossed me. Fair on his part. I just totally disagree with the call.”
The Rays now go on a seven-game road trip, starting Monday in New York.