ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Randy Arozarena became the first player to hit a home run and steal home in a postseason game, and rookie Shane McClanahan pitched the Tampa Bay Rays to a 5-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox in their AL Division Series opener Thursday night.
The breakout star of October last year, Arozarena made a breathtaking dash to the plate in the seventh inning for the first straight steal of home in the postseason since Jackie Robinson did it for the Brooklyn Dodgers against Yogi Berra and the New York Yankees in the 1955 World Series, according to the FS1 broadcast.
Nelson Cruz also homered and McClanahan tossed five stellar innings for the Rays.
Young Wander Franco also sparkled in his playoff debut, delivering an early RBI double that speedy 2020 postseason star Arozarena scored on from first base to get the defending AL champions off to a quick start.
Arozarena, a 26-year-old Cuban who’s still a rookie despite setting a postseason record with 10 homers and 29 hits in 20 games a year ago, capped an exhilarating performance by stealing home on Boston reliever Josh Taylor to make it 5-0 in the seventh inning.
It was the first steal of home in a playoff game since Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs did it against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the 2016 NLCS.
If not Arozarena’s flashy, crowd-pleasing play and the hitting of the 20-year-old Franco, who was promoted to the majors in June, then McClanahan ‘s pitching may well have been the story of the night.
The 24-year-old lefty, who made his major league debut during Tampa Bay’s run to last year’s World Series, scattered five hits and struck out three in his first career playoff start.
Cruz, acquired at the trade deadline to add a potent bat to the middle of the lineup, hit his 18th career postseason homer for a 3-0 lead in the third inning. Arozarena also went deep against right-hander Nick Pivetta with the bases empty in the fifth for his 11th homer in 21 career postseason games.
With one of the lowest payrolls in baseball and a roster lacking household names, the Rays are in the playoffs for a third straight year after winning a franchise-record 100 games and their second straight AL East title.
Rookie right-hander Shane Baz, an Olympic silver medalist won began the season in Class AA and made his major league debut in late September, will start Game 2 for the Rays on Friday.
The Red Sox, who beat the New York Yankees at home in the AL wild card game to advance to the ALDS, will counter with lefty Chris Sale, who returned from Tommy John surgery in mid-August and went 5-1 with a 3.16 ERA over nine starts down the stretch.
Boston lefty Eduardo Rodriguez took the loss in Game 1, allowing two runs, two hits and walking two in 1 2/3 innings. Pivetta spared manager Alex Cora from having to expend the bullpen by working 4 2/3 innings in relief.
Franco chased Pivetta with his second double of the night, an opposite field hit to left that sent Arozarena scampering from first to third base in the seventh. Four pitches later, Arozarena took advantage of Taylor not paying attention to him and took off for home.
The victory continues Tampa Bay’s recent mastery of the Red Sox.
The Rays lost four straight to Boston before winning 11 of the final 15 meetings between the teams during the regular season. And they wasted no time hopping on Rodriguez this time, using their speed to turn a leadoff walk to Arozarena, Franco’s double to left-center and Yandy Diaz’s two-out, infield single into a quick 2-0 lead.
Cruz homered off one of the catwalks that support the roof at Tropicana Field, setting off another thunderous ovation from a yellow towel-waving sellout crowd of 27,419 that included college basketball television analyst Dick Vitale, a Rays season ticket holder who threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Franco and Cruz are the two biggest additions to this year’s Tampa Bay offense, which ranked second in the majors with 857 runs. With the 20-year-old shortstop and 41-year-old slugger in the lineup, the Rays scored 263 runs in 43 games.
The duo became the second set of teammates to each have a hit in a postseason game when one player was 20 or younger and the other was at least 40. They joined Manny Machado and Jim Thome, who did it in 2012 for the Baltimore Orioles, according to ESPN.
Cruz, meanwhile, became the second-oldest player to homer in the postseason after 43-year-old Julio Franco in 2001.