After 17 big league seasons, 2,573 hits and 555 regular-season home runs, Manny Ramirez still experiences opening-day jitters.
Even in spring training.
One of Tampa Bay's key offseason acquisitions singled and finished 1 for 2 in a brief Grapefruit League debut for the Rays, who got solo homers from Evan Longoria and Sean Rodriguez en route to beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-5 on Saturday.
Ramirez signed a $2 million, one-year contract with the AL East champions, who are counting on the 12-time All-Star to rebound from a disappointing season in which his production for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox was affected by injuries.
Greeted by a nice round of applause from a crowd of 5,689, Ramirez singled off right-hander Charlie Morton in the second inning. The 38-year-old designated hitter left the game after he flied to right field in the fourth.
"It feels good. Before the game I was kind of nervous," said Ramirez, who will get some playing time in left field on Monday, when the Rays will host Pittsburgh again.
"I've always been nervous the first game. Even opening day (regular season), you get butterflies in your stomach. I'm excited," he added. "Every year, you've got something to prove. It's not just me. Every year it's a new year, and you've got to go out there and prove you still can do it. It doesn't matter who you are."
AL Cy Young Award runner-up David Price pitched a scoreless inning, and offseason acquisition Robinson Chirinos hit a three-run double to snap a seventh-inning tie. Johnny Damon, signed along with Ramirez to bolster an offense that lost Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena to free agency, went 0 for 2.
The Pirates scored two early runs off right-hander Adam Russell, then managed just two hits over the final seven innings.
The Rays wore the caps of the St. Petersburg police department in honor of three officers who were killed in the line of duty in the past month. Flags at Charlotte Sports Park were lowered to half-mast and a moment of silence also was observed.
Longoria homered off right-hander Brad Lincoln in the fourth. Rodriguez went deep against lefty Chris Resop in the fifth to tie the score 2-all.
Price faced five batters, throwing 17 pitches. He yielded a one-out single to Neil Walker and — to his dismay — a two-out, four-pitch walk to Pedro Alvarez, Price's former college teammate and roommate at Vanderbilt.
"That one stings," Price said, smiling. "I threw him four straight fast balls that he couldn't swing at."
Damon batted second and Ramirez fourth in a top half of a batting order that could become manager Joe Maddon's preferred lineup against right-handed pitching.
First-year Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle plans to do some tinkering this spring, too. For Saturday's opener, he used customary Pirates leadoff man, Andrew McCutchen, in the No. 3 hole behind Jose Tabata and Walker.
"I think we all pretty well understand what Andrew can do at the top of a lineup, and I think we need to look at ways to stretch the lineup to become more diverse and more dynamic," Hurdle said. "We need to score more runs than we did last year. I do believe he has the skill-set and tool-set to hit third in the lineup. We'll see how it plays out."