Yankees Lose Season Opener Against Rays, 7-6

Sabathia, a 19-game winner a year ago, wasn't sharp

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., Friday, April 6, 2012.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

    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.