- After an exciting, memorable and flat-out bizarre start to the 2018 season, we boil down the day's winners and losers.
Opening Day is a 24-hour period in which every overreaction, hot take, worried spasm and joyous belief in the perfect season can all exist alongside one another. It’s also a dozen games all happening roughly at once, with enough baseball to melt your frontal cortex. But amid all the dingers, gutsy pitching performances, managerial blunders and team debuts, who had the best Game 1, and who wishes they could start over tomorrow? Here are the biggest winners and loses from Opening Day.
Winner: Giancarlo Stanton
Pressure? What pressure? Stanton’s first game as a Yankee was going to make for narrative one way or the other, with the New York tabloids always ready to produce a juicy “NOT A TRUE YANKEE” take for those superstars who struggle under the spotlight. Stanton, though, apparently decided he would rather not end up on the back page of the New York Post with an all-caps “GIANCAR-BLOWS” headline. Facing Blue Jays lefty J.A. Happ in his first plate appearance in pinstripes, he crushed a massive, 426-foot homer to rightfield—and when I say crushed, I mean absolutely crushed.
Stanton followed that up in the fifth inning by ripping a double to left-center to drive in fellow gargantuan dinger dude Aaron Judge. And in the ninth, he put a capper on his afternoon by launching a solo blast to the upper deck in Rogers Centre’s centerfield, making him the first Yankee since Roger Maris in 1960 to hit multiple homers in his New York debut. All in all, his first day as a Bronx Bomber: three hits, two homers, four runs driven in, and a 6–1 win. That’ll keep the Post and George Steinbrenner’s ghost at bay for a bit.
Loser: Everyone who had to listen to John Sterling
Good thing we only have to hear that home run call another [checks Stanton’s 2017 stats] 50 to 60 times this season.
Winner: Ty Blach and lowered expectations
The gap between Madison Bumgarner, cattle-roping World Series hero and baseball’s Marlboro Man, and the soft-tossing Blach is as vast as it is stark. So when Bumgarner was lost for two months due to a broken finger suffered at the end of spring training, and Opening Day duties against the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw fell from him to Blach—he of the 4.78 ERA and 4.0 strikeout-per-nine rate last year—it was understandable if Giants fans went ahead and penciled in an L for the season’s first game before it began. Yet on Thursday evening, Blach blazed away with his 90-mph fastball and threaded his changeup past Los Angeles’ bats to outduel the mighty Kershaw in the shadows of Chavez Ravine, tossing five shutout innings in a 1-0 win. And that’s so perfectly in line with Opening Day and its message of hope springing eternal. Blach delivered that in spades when no one expected anything close to it.
Loser: The Red Sox bullpen
There are David Cronenberg movies that are less gory than the eighth-inning disaster authored by Red Sox relievers Joe Kelly and Carson Smith in Tampa Bay. The two righties came into the game with a 4–0 Boston lead and threw that straight into the garbage, walking four Rays batters between them—one with the bases loaded—and allowing six runs, as Denard Span ripped a go-ahead triple with the bases loaded for his first multi-RBI hit since the Carter administration. That inning from hell didn’t just waste six shutout frames from Chris Sale, though. It also exposed arguably the biggest weakness in this year’s Boston team, with a back of the bullpen that, super-closer Craig Kimbrel aside, is shaky at best. There’s plenty of time for that to be fixed, but that’s certainly not the way new manager Alex Cora wanted to start his first year: sitting on the bench and watching a sure win go up in flames.
Winner: Noah Syndergaard
The raw box score numbers for Syndergaard against the Cardinals weren’t the most impressive—six innings, six hits, four runs and a pair of homers—but given that the Mets’ righthanded behemoth got through them healthy, they’re almost beside the point. Opening Day was a success for the man known as Thor: He struck out 10, didn’t walk a batter, touched 100 on the gun and sat at 98 with his fastball, and needed just 85 pitches to record 18 outs. The fortunes of the 2018 Mets will ebb and flow thanks to a number of players, but perhaps none more important than Syndergaard; without him, there’s no chance of New York challenging for a playoff spot. Consider this start as his first test passed—and a reminder not to bet against him.
Loser: Mike Trout
You may never get another chance in this lifetime to call Mike Trout a big fat failure, so take it now. The Angels’ superhuman centerfielder had a career first on Opening Day against the Athletics: six trips to the plate, zero hits. He had never gone 0-for-6 in a major league game before, but the combination of Kendall Graveman, Yusmeiro Petit, Blake Treinen and Chris Hatcher kept him off the board all day long in an 11-inning loss. The last out was the most brutal: a strikeout with two on and two outs in the top of the 11th, with the A’s walking it off in the bottom of the frame. (Silver lining: At least he didn’t go 0-for-7.) Turns out even gods can stumble.
Loser: 2017’s home run record
Remember last season, when MLB hitters bashed approximately two billion home runs (actual count: 6,105, a new league record) thanks to some combination of an emphasis on putting the ball in the air and a (probably) juiced ball? Well, if you were thinking last season was an aberration and that this year would be less homer-happy, Opening Day quickly robbed you of that belief.
In our first day, we got dingers from [deep breath] Ian Happ (on literally the first pitch of the entire season), Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Yadier Molina, Jose Martinez, George Springer (leadoff, for his second straight Opening Day), Giancarlo Stanton, Eduardo Nuñez (inside the park, but it still counts), Lucas Duda, Jake Marisnick, Kole Calhoun, Jose Abreu, Matt Davidson, Tim Anderson, Zack Cozart, Cesar Hernandez, Matt Davidson (second of the day), Khris Davis, Matt Olson, Tim Anderson (second of the day), Albert Pujols, Freddie Freeman, Brett Gardner, Kevin Pillar, Adam Jones (walkoff), Giancarlo Stanton (second of the day), Matt Davidson (third of the day!), Ozzie Albies, Nick Markakis (walkoff), Joe Panik (off Kershaw!), DJ LeMahieu, and Nelson Cruz.
It’s hard to say things will go back to normal when Anderson, who weighs as much as a greyhound, goes deep twice, or when the slap-hitting Panik is going bridge off one of the greatest pitchers of all time. It’s probably more accurate to say that this new universe full of round-trippers is our new normal. That history-making home run total seems likely to stand in the record books for a mere 12 months.
Loser: Josh Donaldson’s ghost arm
Anyone who watched Donaldson short-arm several throws from third base against the Yankees knew something was up, and his post-game explanation creates more mystery than answers. But while “dead but not injured” doesn’t really shed any light on things on a medical level, it is an interesting concept metaphysically; killed not by brute force but by a kind of draining of the spirit, like air leaking out of a balloon. On the surface, Donaldson’s arm is healthy and hale, but beneath, it rots like an infected tree. It’s an arm stricken by melancholy; a depressive limb; an appendage that simply lost the will to throw and has vanished. The Blue Jays don’t need a disabled list stint for their best hitter; they need a séance, and soon.
Winner (for now): Extreme shifts featuring four outfielders
This is how the Astros lined up against Rangers first baseman Joey Gallo, arguably the game’s most extreme pull-hitter. But while that kind of infield shift all the way to the right is nothing new against Gallo, the added wrinkle is that tiny fourth dot out in leftfield; that would be third baseman Alex Bregman, hanging out in a new spot, since there’s no need for him at his usual position. The result: a left side of the infield that’s emptier than Marlins Park will be by mid-June. Whether that’ll catch on with other teams remains to be seen, but I hope it does, if only to see if Gallo eventually decides to try to drop down a bunt along the third base line. If he does get the ball anywhere past the pitcher, he could walk to second base; as is, he went 0-for-4 playing conventionally.