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Tigers 11, Devil Rays 6

April 1, 1998

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) _ It took two decades for Tampa Bay to get a major league team. It will take at least one more day to get a win.

Playing like the expansion team they are, the Devil Rays fell flat in their first game, losing 11-6 to the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday.

Joe Randa and Joe Oliver each drove in three runs and Luis Gonzalez hit a two-run homer as the Tigers ruined the day for a sellout crowd of 45,369 at Tropicana Field.

Wade Boggs’ two-run homer off winner Justin Thompson in the sixth inning was about all Devil Rays’ fans had to cheer following an hour-long pregame celebration of baseball’s arrival in Florida’s west coast.

Tampa Bay trailed 11-0 after five innings. A four-run rally in the ninth made the game look closer than it really was.

The Tampa Bay area made seven unsuccessful bids to land a team before Devil Rays managing general partner Vince Naimoli was awarded an expansion franchise in March 1995.

Left-hander Wilson Alvarez threw the first pitch in team history at 5:08 p.m. EST, more than 20 years after a committee was first formed to pursue major league baseball for the region.

The $35 million cornerstone of the Devil Rays’ pitching staff retired the Tigers in order in the first inning. But little went right for Tampa Bay after that.

Detroit began the second with five straight hits, loading the bases on singles by Tony Clark, Damion Easley and Gonzalez. Randa followed with a double and Oliver singled, which each driving in two runs.

Randa and Oliver drove in runs in the third to chase Alvarez, who gave up six runs and nine hits in 2 1-3 innings. Gonzalez hit the first home run at Tropicana Field during the Tigers’ five-run fifth.

Randa, Gonzalez and Easley each had three of Detroit’s 18 hits. Brian Hunter had a two-run double to back Thompson, who gave up eight hits in six innings.

The Devil Rays scored four times in the ninth. Quinton McCracken and Rich Butler had RBI singles, Boggs walked with the bases loaded and another run scored on pitcher Todd Jones’ error.

The Tigers won in their first game since moving to the AL Central. They shifted to accommodate the Devil Rays, who wanted to be in the East.

Though the loss was disappointing, what seemed to matter more to the crowd was that baseball was finally in St. Petersburg.

Tampa Bay’s love affair with the game dates back to 1913 when the Chicago Cubs became the first of six teams that have trained in the area in the past 85 years.

Eight other teams have used St. Petersburg as a winter home, including the Devil Rays, who became the first team to hold spring training in the city in which they played regular-season games since World War II.

Notes: The huge American flag that hung from a catwalk above center field was removed before the game. Clark and Easley hit fly balls into the flag during batting practice on Monday, and the AL asked the Devil Rays to take it down ... Alvarez and Thompson were both opening Day starters for the first time ... All nine starters in Detroit’s batting order had at least one hit. ... Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Monte Irvin and Al Lopez simultaneously threw out the first balls.

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