Opening Day recap: best games, top performances, top plays, more
Monday was the busiest Opening Day in major league history. Never before had 28 teams started their season on the same day, and with that much action, it’s not surprising that we saw a little bit of everything. The below is an attempt to run though some of Monday’s more notable highlights.
The Padres-Dodgers game that I pegged as the game to watch heading into Monday’s action lived up to the hype, though not in the way we anticipated. Starters Clayton Kershaw and James Shields, the latter making his Padres debut, both turned in quality starts and combined to strike out 17 men, but neither lasted past the sixth inning nor managed to hold the early one-run leads they were given.
The Padres jumped out in front in the top of the first when leadoff man Wil Myers was hit with Kershaw’s third pitch of the inning, then stole second and scored on a Matt Kemp single. The Dodgers answered back in the fourth when Adrian Gonzalez tied the game with a leadoff home run and Howie Kendrick followed with a triple, scoring on Carl Crawford’s subsequent double. The Padres responded in the top of the fifth when starting shortstop Clint Barmes led off with a double off Kershaw and, with two outs, Derek Norris singled Barmes to third and Kemp doubled both men home to put the Padres back out in front.
The Padres handed that 3-2 lead to their bullpen in the seventh and righty Nick Vincent promptly blew it by allowing two-out doubles to Gonzalez and Kendrick, the latter tying the game at 3-3. The next inning, righty Shawn Kelley got into trouble following a leadoff walk to rookie Joc Pederson. Kelley and first baseman Yonder Alonso collaborated on a pair of sloppy defensive plays, with Kelly whacking Alonso in the face in the process of catching a pop-up and the two working together to botch a nubber to the right side by pinch-hitter Andre Ethier. With men on first and second and one out, Jimmy Rollins stepped up and delivered the decisive blow, a three-run home run to right field that gave the Dodgers a 6-3 lead. With Kenley Janson on the disabled list following foot surgery, new addition Chris Hatcher worked a perfect ninth for the save.
Less expected was second most compelling game of the afternoon, that coming in Cincinnati between the Pirates and Reds. In that game, the Pirates built a 2-0 lead in the middle innings against Francisco Liriano, who likely took years off his manager’s life by walking Johnny Cueto (career OPS+ -36 ... yes negative) leading off the third, then later balked in the first run of the game. Jay Bruce added a solo homer in the fourth and Cueto dominated the Pirates. However, Reds manager Bryan Price handed that 2-0 lead to Kevin Gregg, who made the team as a non-roster invitee, in the eighth and it took Gregg just four batters to blow it via a Josh Harrison single and game-tying two-out home run by Andrew McCutchen.
Unbowed, the Reds stormed back in the bottom of the eight on singles by Billy Hamilton and Joey Votto and a mammoth three-run homer by Todd Frazier that gave them a 5-2 lead Aroldis Chapman easily nailed down with a perfect ninth inning, striking out two.
Top Pitching Performances
Despite having his win vultured by the bullpen (Jumbo Diaz got it for striking out the only batter he faced to end the eighth), Cueto’s performance was one of the best of the day as he allowed just four hits and a walk over seven innings while striking out 10. Cueto and Felix Hernandez were the only two pitchers to reach ten strikeouts during the 11 afternoon games. Hernandez allowed just two hits and a walk in his seven frames, earning the win in the Mariners' 4-1 victory over the Angels. However, one of those two hits was a Mike Trout home run to straight-away centerfield, which came on the eighth pitch of a long battle in the top of the first.
The most surprising dominant pitching performance came from Boston’s Clay Buchholz, who was awful last year, but got off to a strong in 2015 by allowing just three hits and a walk in seven scoreless innings and striking out nine, though he did do that against the pathetic Philadelphia Phillies lineup. The best pitching performance of the day, however, just may have come from David Price, who stretched his 101 pitches further than anyone else, coming one out shy of a shutout and allowing just five singles and no walks in his 8 2/3 innings while striking out five in Detroit’s 4-0 win over the Twins.
The pitchers duel of the day, meanwhile, came in the evening in Houston, where Corey Kluber took a no-hitter into the sixth only to have the first hit he allowed, a two-out single by Jose Altuve, turn into the Astros’ first run on a subsequent single by George Springer. Dallas Keuchel, meanwhile, threw seven scoreless frames scattering three singles and three walks, besting Kluber who finished with seven strikeouts against just three singles and two walks allowed in 7 1/3 innings. Kluber was charged with two runs as the Astros won 2-0 in the lowest-scoring game of the day.
Kluber did not pose the day’s most significant no-hitter alert, however. Oakland’s Sonny Gray took a no-no into the eighth inning only to allow a clean single to the first batter in that inning, Rangers’ leftfielder Ryan Rua. Gray allowed just three baserunners in eight scoreless innings as the A’s cruised to an 8-0 win over Texas. The first two reached when one of Gray’s pitches clipped Rougned Odor’s jersey sleeve in the top of the third and when leftfielder Ben Zobrist lost a ball in the lights and had it tip off his glove in the top of the sixth, an obvious error. According to ESPN Stats & Info, in doing so Gray became the first pitcher to throw at least eight innings on Opening Day without allowing multiple hits since Cleveland Hall of Famer Bob Lemon in 1953.
Four teams fell victim to particularly lopsided blowouts on Monday with the Rangers losing 8-0 behind Yovani Gallardo, the Phillies losing 8-0 to Buchholz and the Red Sox despite having Cole Hamels on the mound, the White Sox losing 10-1 to the Royals in Jeff Samardzija's ChiSox debut, and the Brewers losing 10-0 to the Rockies with stalwart Kyle Lohse on the hill. Of those four, Lohse took the worst beating, giving up eight runs in 3 1/3 innings, four of them coming on home runs by Corey Dickerson and Nolan Arenado. Hamels, who struck out six in his five frames, wasn’t nearly that bad with the glaring exception of the four solo home runs he allowed. Samardzija struck out just one batter in six innings while walking three and was charged with five runs for his efforts. Gallardo gave up four runs in four innings despite striking out five against no walks. Two of those runs came on Ben Zobrist’s home run in his first A’s at-bat.
Honorable mention here goes to the Yankees, who lost 6-1 to the Blue Jays with Masahiro Tanaka giving up five runs (four earned) in four innings, striking out six with good movement on his pitches, but sitting at or below 91 miles per hour and looking tentative throughout. Speaking of velocity, Jered Weaver didn’t break 83 until the third inning against the Mariners and topped out at 87, striking out just one and appearing lucky to escape with just eight hits and four runs allowed.
The four solo home runs against Hamels came off the bats of Dustin Pedroia (3-for-5 with a pair of solo shots), Hanley Ramirez and Mookie Betts, but it was Ramirez, who added a grand slam off Jake Diekman in the ninth, who was the hitting star of the Red Sox' lopsided win. He drove in five of their eight runs and added a walk for good measure. In the Rockies game, Arenado (3-for-4 with a double, a homer and four RBI) had the biggest day, but Troy Tulowitzki, in his first regular season game since July 19 of last year, had a big day as well, going 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles and three runs scored. Dickerson (2-for-4 with a double and a homer) matched Arenado with four RBI of his own and the two combined to drive in eight of the Rockies' ten runs. Not to be left out was the Rockies’ starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick, who in addition to his seven scoreless innings went 2-for-3 with a run scored. For the Royals, the big day belonged to new rightfielder Alex Rios, who went 3-for-4 with a game-breaking three-run home run in the seventh off reliever Kyle Drabek.
Elsewhere, Gonzalez had a big day for the Dodgers, going 3-for-5 with a double and a home run. Seth Smith had a smashing debut for the Mariners, going 3-for-3 with two doubles and a triple, finishing the day hitting 1.000/1.000/2.333. Sticking with relocated rightfielders, Travis Snider went 3-for-4 with a double and two RBI in the Orioles' 6-2 win over Chris Archer and the Rays in Tampa.
Angel Pagan and Joe Panik both had big days in the Giants 5-4 win over Arizona. Panik went 3-for-5 with a double and two runs scored. Pagan did even better, going 3-for-4 with a walk, two doubles, two RBI and a run scored. Meanwhile, Diamondbacks rookie Jake Lamb had the biggest pinch-hit of the day, delivering a bases-clearing double in the eighth inning to bring Arizona within one run of the Giants.
The Reds made some nice plays behind Cueto, but the top plays of the day have to go to Yoenis Cespedes and Mike Trout, both of whom complimented the home runs they hit by robbing one from the other team. Cespedes did this to Kurt Suzuki in the top of the third (courtesy @cjzero):
And Mike Trout did this to Logan Morrison in the bottom of the eighth (courtesy @FlyByKnite):
The Marlins, who have a three-year-old retractable-roof stadium had a 16-minute rain delay in their game against the Braves because team president David Samson was making the decision on the roof himself using a smartphone weather application. Lacking a tarp, because they have a roof, the Marlins had no choice but to let the rain fall on the uncovered field while the roof slowly closed. The result was a slick, wet field that led to this in the bottom of the eighth when Dee Gordon attempted to bunt for a hit to put the tying run on base (courtesy @ChadMoriyama):
The Marlins lost 2-1.
The Royals had a frightening moment in the seventh inning when Yordano Ventura threw himself to the ground in the grass behind the mound with obvious extreme pain in his pitching hand, but reports the next inning were that he just had a bad cramp in his thumb.
Mets closer Jenrry Mejia felt tightness in his pitching elbow when warming up for the save in the Mets’ 3-1 win over the Nationals, shut himself down and will have an MRI on Tuesday. Buddy Carlyle saved the game for New York and Bartolo Colon, who outdueled Max Scherzer.
Ryan Braun pulled something on his side making a catch against the Rockies. The Brewers haven’t named it yet and will reevaluate him on Tuesday, but it wouldn’t be surprising to learn it’s a strained oblique, which could send him to the disabled list adding literally injury to the implied insult of Milwaukee’s 10-0 loss to the Rockies.
Devon Travis, the surprise winner of the competition for the Blue Jays’ second base camp, went 1-for-2 with a pair of walks and two runs scored in his first game above Double A and became the first player to hit a home run in his major league debut on Opening Day since Jason Heyward famously did so in 2010. The home run, which came against lefthanded Yankee reliever Chasen Shreve, was Travis’s first major league hit and he raced around the bases after hitting it then mimed high fives when his teammates gave him the silent treatment in the dugout.