Despite weather, Opening Day still has plenty of excitement
Illness, rain and frigid temperatures put a dent in the number of marquee matchups on Opening Day, but the 10 season-opening games played on Monday still produced plenty of highlights. Here’s a rundown of the most notable ones.
Hitting the trifecta
With the Astros-Yankees 1:05 p.m. ET game postponed (more on that below), the Giants-Brewers 2:10 p.m. ET/1:10 CT tilt took center stage as the afternoon’s first game. As far as the starting pitchers went, it was a clunker, with a flu-ridden Madison Bumgarner walking five and serving up two homers while allowing three runs in five wobbly innings, and opposite number Wily Peralta yielding five runs (four earned) in four innings.
As far as longballs went—and they went a long ways—the game was a success, as four Giants and two Brewers homered in San Francisco’s 12–3 win. Most notably, Denard Span, Joe Panik and Buster Posey went back-to-back-to-back off Ariel Pena in the eighth inning, with the first of those homers a three-run shot that broke open what had been a 5–3 game:
Via the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time since July 20, 2006, that the Giants hit three straight homers; in that game, Barry Bonds, Ray Durham and Pedro Feliz connected against the Padres’ Brian Sweeney. It was the first time any team hit three straight on Opening Day since April 1, 1997, when San Diego's Chris Gomez, Rickey Henderson and Quilvio Veras lit up the Mets’ Pete Harnisch. The only other team to hit three in a row on Opening Day was the 1948 Red Sox, whose Stan Spence, Vern Stephens and Bobby Doerr teed off on the A’s Phil Marchildon, though they lost 5–4.
Span, who also singled in a run in the third, and hit a sacrifice fly that scored Bumgarner in the fourth, drove in five runs in his Giants debut. Matt Duffy, who hit a two-run single in the second and then a two-run homer in the fifth off Carlos Torres, drove in four overall.
As for the Brewers, Scooter Gennett and Jonathan Villar homered. Gennett’s second-inning homer was noteworthy: Bumgarner allowed just two homers in 149 plate appearances against lefties last year, but served one up to the first lefty he faced this year. Then again, it clearly wasn’t the Giants ace’s day, as he walked in a run for just the second time in his career, one day short of five years since his first (hat tip to Diane Firstman for that one).
For the past three seasons, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke paired up to give the Dodgers their best tandem of starting pitchers since Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale were teammates, with the pair ranking first and third in the majors in Wins Above Replacement (22.9 and 19.8, respectively, via Baseball-Reference) in that span while combining for a 2.10 ERA in 1,269 2/3 innings. Greinke’s exercise of his opt-out clause led to his departure for Arizona, breaking up the pair but allowing both to work on Opening Day. Their fates could not have differed more.
Kershaw was in vintage form in the Dodgers’ 15–0 rout of the Padres, allowing just one hit over seven innings, a third-inning single by Jon Jay. He whiffed nine while walking one over the course of his 96 pitches. Via Elias, the win was the most lopsided shutout in MLB Opening Day history, surpassing the Pirates’ 14–0 win over the Reds in 1911. If you include the National Association, which ran from 1871 to 1875 but which is not officially recognized by MLB or Elias (though it is by Baseball-Reference and others), you’d have to go back to April 18, 1872, when the Baltimore Canaries beat the Washington Olympics 16–0, according to Ryan Spaeder.
Greinke and the Diamondbacks did not fare as well as Kershaw and the Dodgers. After two scoreless innings against the Rockies, Arizona’s new ace surrendered five straight hits to start the third, including a three-run homer by rookie shortstop Trevor Story, immediately followed by a solo homer by Carlos Gonzalez. It was the first time Greinke surrendered back-to-back homers since April 10, 2010, against the Red Sox, when Jeremy Hermida and Jason Varitek did so. He hadn’t allowed seven in a game since May 26, 2012—when he was a Brewer facing the Diamondbacks in Chase Field. By the the time the Rockies finished collecting seven hits and a walk in the third, they led 6–1. Story, a 23-year-old rookie making his major league debut thanks in part to Jose Reyes’ absence, added a solo homer in the fourth inning to run the score to 7–1. Greinke, who was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the fourth, didn’t allow his seventh run last year until the fourth inning of his fifth start.
As for Story, he became just the fifth player of the Retrosheet era (1913 onward) to homer twice in his major league debut, joining the St. Louis Browns’ Bob Nieman (September 14, 1951 against the Red Sox), the A’s Bert Campaneris (July 23, 1964 against the Twins), the Royals’ Mark Quinn (September 14, 1999 against the Angels) and the Blue Jays’ J.P. Arencibia (August 7, 2010 against the Rays). As you can see by the dates, Story is the first such player to do so on Opening Day.
MVP from Day 1?
Bryce Harper is used to starting the new season on a high note. For the fourth time in four seasons—twice in 2013 against the Marlins, last year against the Mets, and then on Monday against the Braves—he homered on Opening Day, Facing the Braves’ Julio Teheran in the first inning in Atlanta, the reigning NL MVP, who led the league with 42 homers last year, connected with a hanging slider for a solo homer:
Alas, the homer came just after Anthony Rendon was picked off first base, depriving the Nationals of a run they wound up needing. The Braves tied the score in the bottom of the first via Freddie Freeman’s solo homer off Max Scherzer, and the teams traded blows in the fourth via solo shots by Daniel Murphy (making his Nationals debut) and Adonis Garcia. Atlanta took the lead in the eighth against Felipe Rivero when Jeff Francoeur (making his return to the Braves) walked and came around to score on a bases-loaded walk by Garcia, but Washington tied it in the ninth against Jason Grilli via a Jayson Werth walk, a pair of singles and then a Michael Taylor sacrifice fly. Ender Inciarte’s throw to A.J. Pierzynski actually beat Werth to the plate, but Pierzynski couldn’t hold onto the ball, allowing the tying run to score.
After Atlanta failed to score in the ninth, Washington scored the deciding run in the 10th against Eric O’Flaherty, when Ryan Zimmerman reached on an error by second baseman Gordon Beckham, then came home on Murphy’s double down the leftfield line. Jonathan Papelbon pitched the bottom of the 10th and managed not to choke, giving the Nationals their first win in the Dusty Baker era.
One hit too many
Making his eighth straight Opening Day start and the ninth of his career—both tops among active players—Felix Hernandez was almost unhittable. Facing the Rangers in Arlington, he surrendered just one hit over six innings, though his outing wasn’t one for the scrapbook, as he walked five, hit one batter, and was victimized by a pair of errors that led to two unearned runs and sent the Mariners down in defeat, 3–2.
After allowing three baserunners over the first two frames, Hernandez found a groove and retired seven in a row heading into the fifth inning, with the Mariners holding a 2–0 lead on solo homers by Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, both off Cole Hamels. Things began to unravel when King Felix walked Rougned Odor on five pitches to open the fifth; Odor then stole second, and took third when Kyle Seager misplayed an Elvis Andrus grounder.
For some reason, Robinson Chirinos gave up an out with a half-baked sacrifice that advanced only the trailing runner, but the Rangers came through nonetheless. Delino DeShields Jr. followed with a four-pitch walk that loaded the bases, and then Shin-Soo Choo walked as well, forcing in Odor before Hernandez had allowed a hit. Prince Fielder followed with a bloop single that scored Andrus, tying the game. DeShields then scored when Mariners shortstop Ketel Marte couldn’t handle a routine double play grounder off the bat of Adrian Beltre. While Hernandez escaped the jam by striking out Mitch Moreland and Ian Desmond, the damage was done, as Hamels, Jake Diekman and Shawn Tolleson kept the Mariners at bay.
Via Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time in the modern era (presumably meaning since 1901, when the AL was founded) that a team won on Opening Day despite collecting just one hit. It was just the second time in franchise history that the Rangers won a game while being one-hit, the first having come back on July 27, 1993, when Rafael Palmeiro’s seventh-inning solo homer off the Royals’ Kevin Appier gave the Rangers a 1–0 victory. The Mariners had never lost a one-hitter before.
Rainouts & Dropouts
Mother Nature threw quite a curveball to MLB’s Opening Day plans. For starters, the day’s first game, the AL wild-card rematch between the Astros and Yankees, was postponed more than four hours before the scheduled 1:05 p.m. first pitch due to rain and cold weather in the Bronx, which at least saved most fans a trip to Yankee Stadium. It was the first time since 2008 that the Yankees had to table their Opening Day plans. Last year’s wild-card combatants, Dallas Keuchel and Masahiro Tanaka, will instead square off at 1:10 p.m. ET on Tuesday, but despite a forecast of sunshine, temperatures could dip below 40 degrees. You can read my preview of that game here.
Miserable weather also led to the postponement of the day’s 4:10 ET duel between former Cy Young winners David Price (making his Red Sox debut) and Corey Kluber; via MLB.com’s Ian Browne, the thermometer was at 31 degrees when the game was called around 2 p.m., and set to go even lower, with wind chill at 18 degrees and rain or snow possible. It was the first time since 2007 that the Indians had to postpone their home opener; that year, heavy snow forced the postponement of their entire four-game series with the Mariners and required them to move their next series, against the Angels, to Milwaukee’s Miller Park. Boston and Cleveland will try again under chilly conditions at 1:10 ET on Tuesday; follow the link to Monday’s game above for a preview.
Meanwhile, the Orioles and Twins didn’t have to postpone, but their 3:05 ET game was delayed for one hour and 41 minutes—during which time no rain fell—before finally getting underway. Two innings in, shortly after Eddie Rosario paused from building an ark to haul in J.J. Hardy’s wind-blown foul-to-fair fly ball, rain forced another delay, this one of an hour and 10 minutes. That forced Baltimore manager Buck Showalter to pull starter Chris Tillman, and likewise for Minnesota manager Paul Molitor and starter Ervin Santana. Fans at Camden Yards who stuck it out through the nearly six-hour ordeal were rewarded by witnessing Matt Wieters’ walk-off single off Kevin Jepsen, which scored Chris Davis to give Baltimore a 3–2 win.
As if the inclement weather didn’t scrub enough good pitching matchups already, a bout of food poisoning felled the A’s Sonny Gray, who was slated to face the White Sox’s Chris Sale, and a bout of the flu weakened Bumgarner, as noted above.