Brian Wilson meltdown wastes Ryu gem, Dodgers fall to Padres in U.S. opener
It was the latest in Major League Baseball's rolling series of 2014 opening games and, as in the first two, all was going so well for the Dodgers. Already 2-0 after their season-opening trip to Australia, Los Angeles had a 1-0 eighth-inning lead against the Padres in San Diego in Sunday night's domestic opener.
Hyun-jin Ryu, after pitching out of some early trouble, didn't allow a hit to his final 18 batters, retiring 16 in a row and facing the minimum after the second inning. That and a two-out, RBI single to the opposite field by Carl Crawford in the top of the fifth off Padres starter Andrew Cashner, who was also sharp outside of that inning, allowed Dodgers manager Don Mattingly to hand a 1-0 lead to his elite late-inning relievers. Mattingly couldn't have asked for much more going into this game, other than perhaps an insurance run.
Not that one more run would have helped. Wilson's third pitch was a hanging slider to pinch-hitter Seth Smith, and Smith deposited it in the right-field stands, tying the game with the first extra-base hit of the contest (GIF via @cjzero).
Wilson, who had been behind Smith 2-0, then walked pinch-hitter Yasmani Grandal and booted Everth Cabrera's subsequent bunt attempt. His next pitch drew a swing and miss from Chris Denorfia, but was in the dirt. Grandal, a catcher coming off knee surgery, stole third. It was Grandal's first professional stolen base. On the next pitch, Cabrera took second on defensive indifference. This was the eighth inning of a tie game. Denorfia then plated both runners with a single up the middle to put the Padres up 3-1.
After six more pitches and an Adrian Gonzalez error, Wilson was done having coughed up three runs without recording a single out. With Wilson on the bench, the game went back to being a quiet one. The next six batters made outs to wrap up the Padres' 3-1 win.
The outing was the worst of Wilson's major-league career. Four times before he had appeared in a game without recording an out, but in only one of them had he faced as many as three batters, that coming way back in his fifth major-league appearance in June 2006. In this game, he faced five men, and while two reached on errors, one of those errors was his own. The three runs Wilson allowed (only two of which were earned because his error came around to score) tied the fifth highest total of his career. The most he has ever allowed was four, and on each of the four occasions he did so, he got at least two outs. The last of those was in August 2009.
Beyond its status as an oddity, however, Wilson's disastrous outing likely won't prove significant beyond the loss it hung on his team. Ryu's second strong start in as many games (thanks to the week off in between) -- particularly the way he settled down after allowing five of his first seven batters to reach and escaping a bases-loaded jam in the first with a fortunate 1-2-3 double play -- was far more encouraging for L.A. than Wilson's outing should be dispiriting.
The Padres, however, should delight in their win. Cashner pitched six strong innings and, like Ryu, didn't allow an extra-base hit. Smith, acquired in a trade with the A's over the winter, came up huge in his first at-bat for the team in a role he will be asked to fill often this year, pinch-hitter. Grandal, back from injury, and Denorfia, who will once again see increased playing time due to injuries to Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin, both had good at-bats that led to the winning run. San Diego's bullpen, in this case Nick Vincent, lefty Alex Torres, Dale Thayer, and closer Huston Street, was almost perfect, issuing only one walk (by Vincent) in three hitless innings. Best of all, now that all of these staggered, one-off openers are done with, fans of teams outside of the National League West will finally get to see their teams play. Baseball's real Opening Day is Monday with a slate of 13 games scheduled starting with the Cubs at the Pirates at 1:05 p.m. Eastern. Jay Jaffe, Jon Tayler and myself will have full coverage of the afternoon games via twitter at @SI_MLB as well as multiple posts in this space and a wrap-up of the day's action Monday night. Enough teasing. Baseball's back.