- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. (AP) - The Tampa Bay Rays raised the first division and league championship banners in franchise history, then went out and played like a team capable of getting back to the postseason.

Carlos Pena hit a second-inning grand slam and drove in six runs Monday night, helping Scott Kazmir beat Chien-Ming Wang and the New York Yankees 15-5 in the home opener for the AL champions.

It got so bad for the Yankees that first baseman Nick Swisher pitched a scoreless eighth inning, the first New York position player to take the mound since Wade Boggs used his knuckleball in 1997.

The Rays celebrated last year’s improbable worst-to-first turnaround by hanging two large blue and white banners above the left field stands during a festive pregame ceremony at soldout Tropicana Field.

They spent the rest of the night pleasing the crowd of 36,973 by beating up on a division rival that shelled out more than $400 million in offseason acquisitions with hopes of regaining supremacy in the AL East.

Kazmir (2-0) allowed three runs and six hits in 6 2-3 innings, including Swisher’s solo homer in the fourth and Melky Cabrera’s RBI single in the fifth. The left-hander struck out six and walked none.

Earlier in the day, New York’s Alex Rodriguez resumed drills on a baseball field five weeks after hip surgery and said following the workout in Tampa that he eventually hopes to return as “good as new.”

The Yankees could use some help with Derek Jeter _ 1-for-his-last-20 _ struggling and Cody Ransom going 2-for-24 with two RBIs as A-Rod’s replacement at third base.

Swisher may have been New York’s most effective pitcher. After giving up a walk and Tampa Bay’s 17th hit, he struck out Gabe Kapler and got Pena and Pat Burrell to fly out.

Pena had a two-run double in the first off Wang, who continued to struggle in his comeback from foot surgery that sidelined him for more than three months last season. The slugger drove in three of the eight runs charged to Wang in one-plus innings with the sixth grand slam of his career off reliever Jonathan Albaladejo.

Burrell and Jason Bartlett also homered for the Rays, who got two more RBIs from hot-hitting Evan Longoria, who drew a bases-loaded walk from Wang in the second and added a run-scoring single off Albaladejo in the fifth.

Longoria, the 2008 AL rookie of the year, has hit safely in all seven of Tampa Bay’s games and has five homers and 12 RBIs.

In two starts since foot surgery, Wang has allowed 15 runs on 15 hits in 4 2-3 innings. He failed to get through the fourth inning of a loss at Baltimore last week, and his earned run average ballooned from 17.18 to 28.93 after Monday night.

Tampa Bay got a boost from the return of B.J. Upton, who missed the opening week of the season to rehab his surgically repaired left shoulder. He was 1-for-3 with two walks and two stolen bases, and the 24-year-old made a crowd-pleasing, over-the-head catch of Xavier Nady’s drive to the center field wall in the second inning.

Upton also looked comfortable in his new role as a leadoff hitter, drawing a walk in the first inning before stealing second base and taking third as part of a double steal with Carl Crawford.

Upton and Crawford scored on Pena’s double, and Wang also yielded a run-scoring double to Burrell and RBI single to Gabe Gross to fall behind 4-0.

Notes:@ With the Yankees trailing 12-2, Jeter and left fielder Johnny Damon left the game for defensive replacements in the sixth inning. … The Rays will receive their AL championship rings Tuesday night. … Yankees 1B Mark Teixeira was out of the lineup for the third straight game because of tendinitis in his left wrist. Manager Joe Girardi expects him back in the lineup on Tuesday. … Rodriguez hit 36 balls off a tee and took 42 swings during a soft-toss hitting session at the Yankees’ minor league complex in Tampa. He also fielded 40 grounders and did some light running.

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