One baseball tradition is to roll out your ace to start the season. Opening day is the one day all season when pretty much every team’s top guy is on the same schedule. It’s all about putting your best foot forward, showing off your best thrower, setting a tone for the season, providing a little perk for the No. 1 starter.
It is also an old adage that in the very beginning of the Major League baseball season that the pitchers are ahead of the hitters. Well, Monday, they were so far ahead of the hitters that those poor guys swinging needed a telescope to spot the pitchers who were making them look like fools. It was practically the dead ball era all over again.
The highlight reel was almost all about swings and misses. If it wasn’t already windy in some of the eastern parks where spring has just failed to settle in, one might say that the number of batters stirring the air created localized windchill factors.
Detroit’s Justin Verlander pitched five innings while allowing three hits in the Tigers’ 4-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis, where it was 35 degrees with a 17 mph wind. Stephen Strasburg led the Washington Nationals to a 2-0 win over the Miami Marlins while allowing just three hits. He was helped along by buddy Bryce Harper‘s two solo home runs. Chris Sale pitched 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball as the White Sox beat the Royals 1-0. Boston’s Jon Lester looked positively pedestrian because he gave up two runs in five innings with seven strikeouts, though the Sox beat the Yankees, 8-2. Chicago Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija struck out nine and gave up two hits in a 3-1 victory over the Pirates.
Best of them all was the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw pitched a complete game, something many solid starters aren’t allowed to do even under a hot July sun, while blanking the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants, 4-0, on four hits. Kershaw tossed just 94 pitches and he even hit a home run for the first time in a game that counted since high school, pretty much proving that there was no logic whatsoever to who could swing a bat this day.
On such a chilly day Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he would have been crazy to let Verlander pitch longer. But that just meant he had to go to his bullpen early. The bullpen is the biggest question for the 2012 American League pennant winners and the team has not committed to a single closer. The Tigers let Jose Valverde go after his sad showing in the playoffs and anointed successor Bruce Randon failed in spring training. It was interesting to note that when it came to finishing off the game Leyland chose Phil Coke to do it–the same man he relied on at the end last year.
Not only did the Red Sox pound arch-rival New York (Jacoby Ellsbury had three hits, one of the only players in the majors not to appear feeble at the plate), but the Yankees’ mix-and-match lineup was filled with so many strange names it was flat out fascinating. It was like the waiver-wire special. With several regulars injured the Yankees really had to get creative to field participants fans heard of.
It wasn’t as if the Yankees awkwardly started numerous rookies that no one heard of, but that they started players who all came from somewhere else recently. Among those who wore pinstripes for the opener were Travis Hafner (pinch hitter), Jason Nix, Vernon Wells, Kevin Youkilis, Ben Francisco, and Lyle Overbay (pinch hitter).
If all of those guys were in their prime, that wouldn’t be a bad thing. But they’re not and that group was out there instead of injured Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixiera.
Meanwhile, over in Cincinnati, the Reds, one of the National League favorites, played against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, one of the American League favorites, in the first inter-league opener in baseball history. The game lasted 13 innings and nobody could hit there either (Albert Pujols, 0-4, Josh Hamilton, 0-4, Jay Bruce 0-5, Joey Votto, 0-4). The Reds mustered just three safeties to the Angels’ six. It took the Angels seven pitchers to win it, 3-1. It took the Reds five pitchers to lose it, including Johnny Cueto, who was superb through seven, allowing just three hits and one run while striking out nine. In fact, the Reds struck out Angels players 17 times.
“We just did a great job of mixing and matching,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of juggling pitchers until Mark Lowe got the win. “You couldn’t ask for more (from the bullpen). The scenarios were developing pitch by pitch. We were running out of players, but this is a series (opening week) when no teams wants to extend their starters.”
Opening day a lot of those starting pitchers did the job as well as they do in mid-season.