Yankees, Arozarena help bring big crowds to series with Rays

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Tampa Bay Rays' Randy Arozarena celebrates after hitting a solo home run off New York Yankees starting pitcher Jhony Brito during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, May 5, 2023, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Rays are off to one of the best starts in Major League Baseball history.

But it took a visit by the New York Yankees to bring the big crowds to Tropicana Field.

“Every time you play the Yankees, it feels like you’re playing in the World Series,” said Rays first baseman Yandy Díaz, through a translator.

Tampa Bay’s 27-7 start through Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Yankees ranks among legendary World Series-winning teams like Kirk Gibson’s 1984 Detroit Tigers, Joe DiMaggio’s 1939 Yankees and the 1928 Yankees, which included Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

The first meeting this season between the AL East foes had the Rays opening up the normally closed upper deck. The attendance Saturday was 27,708, which bested the season-high 25,025 from opening day against the Tigers.

The total turnout through the first two games was 52,715, lifting the 2023 home attendance average to 17,137. It ranks eighth-best in the AL, an increase from last year’s 13,927.

Despite six postseason appearances over the stretch, the Rays haven’t had a 20,000 average since 2010.

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash likes the atmosphere of a boisterous crowd.

“This place, when there’s a lot of people in here, it gets really loud,” Cash said. “I appreciate the fans coming out. Anytime we get a packed house, it’s pretty exciting.”

Tampa Bay’s 5-4 victory in Friday’s series opener had that playoff feel from the start. Popular Rays left fielder Randy Arozarena homered in the first inning, and was hit by what both team called unintentional pitches in each of his next two plate appearances,

The ensuing barking between the two dugouts prompted the umpires to issue an warning to both benches. Unhappy that a warning wasn’t given earlier, Cash stormed out of the dugout to make his point and was ejected.

Adding to it all was “Randy Land,” a section of seats in left field set aside for Friday’s game where fans got a Arozarena T-shirt.

Part of the package includes a free soda, water or beer — for those of legal age — if Arozarena goes deep. He quickly obliged.

“Very happy and excited,” said Arozarena, through a translator. “I know the fans are pretty excited, too, because they’re able to drink for free because of me.” ___ AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports