Tuesday brought the final three MLB season openers of 2016, and there was plenty of action in each. Yankees-Astros was decided on a controversial play, Red Sox-Indians saw history made and Tigers-Marlins was somehow the wildest of the trio.
Frigid temperatures—albeit with sunshine instead of rain—were the backdrop for Tuesday’s rescheduled Opening Day matchups in the Bronx and Cleveland, while balmy Miami played host to the final pair of teams to start their 2016 campaigns. Here’s a quick roundup of Opening Day Part III.
Astros color outside the lines
Rescheduled from Monday afternoon, the AL wild-card rematch between the Astros and Yankees began with the thermometer at 36 degrees with 18-mph winds. It hinged on a controversial eighth-inning call that led to Houston’s 5–3 win, assuming Yankees manager Joe Girardi’s protest is denied. Yes, things got a little crazy.
With the score tied 2–2, one out and Jose Altuve on second base, Carlos Correa hit a dribbler down the first base line that reliever Dellin Betances fielded. Correa ran on the infield grass past the 45-foot mark and was therefore outside the baseline, which prevented Betances from being able to throw an accurate strike to first baseman Mark Teixeira. Instead, Betances airmailed an awkward lob well over Teixeira’s head and into foul territory in rightfield, allowing Altuve to score the go-ahead run:
For another angle, this screenshot gives a good indication of how far out of the basepath Correa strayed:
This appeared to be a play where Rule 5.09(a)(11) should have been invoked:
A batter is out when —
…In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire’s judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, in which case the ball is dead; except that he may run outside (to the right of) the three-foot line or inside (to the left of) the foul line to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball
Correa did not deviate from the lane to avoid a fielder, nullifying the last part of that rule, but home plate umpire Dana DeMuth did not judge him to have committed interference. Worse for the Yankees, that judgment was not reviewable under the instant replay system. The best that an irate Girardi could do was to persuade DeMuth to confer with his crew, which he did, but it upheld the initial ruling, calling Correa safe, whereupon Girardi signaled his protest and then got himself tossed.
Absurdly enough, the Yankees—who back in August 2014 wound up on the short end of a similar but much less obvious interference call—probably would have gotten a ruling in their favor had Betances hit Correa with his throw. DeMuth told a pool reporter as much after the game, saying, “That ball was so high that in my judgment it was just an error, a bad throw,” and that to get the interference call, Betances would’ve had to “throw it into the runner’s back. Because then what’s happening? He is impeding.”
Via WFUV’s Drew Casey, Teixiera also conceded as much, comparing the play to a pass interference non-call on a throw out of bounds. Still, it’s not like the errant throw didn’t have a cause, so one can understand the Yankees’ frustration. And regardless of which way the call went, it makes little sense that such plays aren’t reviewable via replay.
Beyond that, the problem for the Yankees was that the normally reliable Betances couldn’t recover to get the job done. Correa stole second base (he was initially called out, but the call was overturned upon review, with little fanfare), and Betances, who had gotten ahead of Colby Rasmus 0–2, threw four straight balls and walked him. After striking out Carlos Gomez looking, he left a knuckle curve in the strike zone that Luis Valbuena roped into right centerfield for a two-run single and a 5–2 lead. The Yankees trimmed that to 5–3 in the bottom of the frame when Ken Giles—who will start the year in a setup role, apparently—served up a solo homer to Didi Gregorius, the first batter he faced as an Astro. The Yankees weren’t able to get the tying run to the plate against either Giles or closer Luke Gregerson, who combined to retire the final six batters.
Prior to that hubbub, the game featured solid outings from starters Masahiro Tanaka and Dallas Keuchel. The Yankees struck first via newcomer Starlin Castro’s two-run double in the second inning following a Carlos Beltran single and a Brian McCann walk, snapping a 29-inning scoreless streak against the reigning AL Cy Young winner that dated back to August 2014. They were otherwise unable to capitalize on the four walks Keuchel issued thanks in part to inning-ending double plays in the first and fourth innings. The latter began a streak of 10 straight Yankees retired, a high note on which Keuchel closed his afternoon.
As for Tanaka, he was perfect through the order the first time, but gave up his first hit when leftfielder Aaron Hicks misplayed an Altuve line drive into a double over his head and off the wall. Altuve took third on an infield single by George Springer and scored on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Correa, who in his next turn in the sixth inning tied the score with a solo homer to right center:
That homer, Correa’s 23rd in 100 major league games (nine more than Alex Rodriguez in the same span, seven more than Nomar Garciaparra) came with two outs in the sixth; after walking Rasmus on seven pitches to run his total to 87, Tanaka was done for the day. Correa was not, making this play on a Rodriguez liner in the bottom of the inning:
AL MVP? That’s my bet, though obviously, we’ve got a long ways to go.
Something old, something new even as fingers were turning blue
Under even chillier first-pitch conditions in Cleveland—34 degrees at first pitch—than in New York, David Price made a strong first impression with his new team by getting the upper hand on fellow former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, while David Ortiz began his final lap around the majors in style in Boston’s 6–2 win. In six innings, Price yielded five hits (all singles), two walks and two runs while striking out 10. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the 10 whiffs were the most by a lefty in his Red Sox debut, and the most by a Red Sox lefty on Opening Day; righties Wes Ferrell (1936) and Josh Beckett (2009) both struck out 10 on Opening Day while Pedro Martinez (1998 and 2000) and Roger Clemens (1988) punched out 11.
Facing an Indians lineup missing all three of its projected starting outfielders (Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall are on the disabled list, while Abraham Almonte is serving a PED suspension), Price struck out two batters apiece in each of the first three innings while yielding just one walk. He gave up a single to Francisco Lindor to start the fourth, with two more singles and a sacrifice fly plating two runs; in fact, four of the five hits he allowed and 25 of the 103 pitches he threw came in that messy frame. All told, Price threw 71 strikes on the day, generating 13 swings and misses; via Brooks Baseball, six came via his two-seam fastball, five via his changeup and two via his knuckle curve. Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara and Craig Kimbrel (making his Boston debut as well) followed with scoreless innings, with Kimbrel’s two-out walk of Marlon Byrd the only blemish on the bullpen’s line.
Those two fourth-inning runs tied the score following Mookie Betts’s two-run homer off Kluber in the third. MLB.com broke out the StatCast metrics for this one, but you don’t need numbers to quantify the satisfaction (or dismay, depending upon your rooting interest) produced by the crack of that bat:
Kluber did not have a great day, yielding nine hits and a pair of walks over 5 1/3 innings while striking out five, though the only other extra-base hit he allowed was a third-inning double by Ortiz. Making the final Opening Day start of a storied 19-year career, Ortiz did Big Papi things in the ninth against Trevor Bauer, who was making just the second relief appearance of his career after losing out on a rotation spot. Par for the course from a pitcher who led the AL with 79 walks last year, Bauer had walked the leadoff man prior to Ortiz’s blast:
That was the 504th homer of Ortiz’s career, tying him with Eddie Murray for 26th on the all-time list. It was the fifth Opening Day homer of Ortiz’s career, tying Carl Yastrzemski and Dwight Evans for the franchise Opening Day record and breaking a tie with Bryce Harper and Jimmy Rollins for the active lead. Frank Robinson and Ken Griffey Jr. hold the all-time lead with eight; no doubt Red Sox fans wish that Ortiz would stick around to challenge it.
Tigers ride roller coaster in Miami
Opening Day at Marlins Park had a little something for everybody, including 77-degree temperatures that players and fans in New York and Cleveland had to envy. A no-hit bid by Justin Verlander, a long home run by Giancarlo Stanton, a painful debut by Wei-Yin Chen, a game-tying ninth-inning rally, extra innings—just about everything but new Marlins manager Don Mattingly and the hometown fans going home happy, as the Tigers won in 11, 8–7, on Ian Kinsler’s fourth RBI of the game.
Chen, whom the Marlins signed to a five-year, $80 million deal and then rewarded with the Opening Day start ahead of Jose Fernandez so as to better control their ace’s workload, was roughed up early. He surrendered a run in the first inning via a Kinsler single, a Justin Upton double and a groundout. Chen then gave up three in the second on a Kinsler homer that had been preceded by an Anthony Gose shot off the pitcher’s left (throwing) arm right above the elbow and just the third big league hit of Verlander’s career. The Marlins’ medical staff gave Chen the go-ahead after the former; no word on whether it wished to reconsider its opinion after the latter. Chen did stick around to labor through five innings, allowing nine hits and five runs while striking out three.
Making the eighth Opening Day start of his career (he missed last year, part of a 2 1/2-month absence due to a triceps strain), Verlander dominated the Marlins at the outset, retiring 16 of the first 18 batters he faced and working around leadoff walks by Stanton in the second and Martin Prado in the fourth while being staked to a 5–0 lead. With one out in the sixth, Dee Gordon broke up the no-hit bid with a double to rightfield and blazed to third on an error by J.D. Martinez. He came home on a Marcell Ozuna single. Two batters later, Stanton did this:
Via StatCast, the estimated distance on that was “only” 401 feet; it’s the 37-degree launch angle that’s causing your hair to stand up. Verlander finished the inning, departing having allowed three runs, three hits and two walks while striking out five over six innings. It was a promising start to his season, albeit an uneven one; he threw 11 pitches or fewer in three of the first four innings, 20 in the second and fifth innings, and then 31 pitches in the sixth.
The Tigers’ bullpen could not hold the lead; the names may change but the song remains the same for a unit with the AL’s second-worst bullpen ERA (4.09) over the past five seasons. A leadoff triple by Gordon in the eighth off Mark Lowe turned into a run that trimmed the lead to 5–4, but Detroit expanded its lead when Gose and pinch-hitter Victor Martinez hit back-to-back solo homers off Bryan Morris in the ninth. New Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez made a hash of things by yielding four hits, including doubles by J.T. Realmuto, Derek Dietrich and Gordon, the last two of which were back to back, tying the game. Lost in the sauce was a fine running catch by Upton on what turned out to be a sacrifice fly by Adeiny Hechavarria that had cut the score to 7–5; it wasn’t exactly a game-saver, but it’s worth a look.
The Tigers threatened in the top of the 10th, loading the bases, but Jose Iglesias was picked off first base after Realmuto recovered from a wild pitch that didn’t travel far enough to bring J.D. Martinez home from third. Detroit finally pushed the go-ahead run across in the top of the 11th against Craig Breslow via a Gose walk, a sacrifice and a Kinsler single, and then Shane Greene set the Marlins down in order for the save to give the Tigers their fifth straight Opening Day victory.