The anticipation and excitement of Opening Day stems from the long winter absence of baseball (meaningful, non-spring training baseball, that is). And with the first day of action come the matchups.
All of the questions that build up over the offseason start to get answered. It’s the first page of the story of the season.
That’s when the key figures emerge. On Monday, the marquee matchup featured the World Champion San Francisco Giants and Matt Cain against the Los Angeles Dodgers and 2011 Cy Young Award winner (and last year’s runner up) Clayton Kershaw. Through six innings, it was as advertised as both pitchers had yet to give up a run.
Cain left after his six, but Kershaw was just getting started. Not only did he homer off of Giants reliever George Kontos leading off the eighth inning, but he went the distance, giving up only four hits (all singles) in a shutout effort. He struck out seven and walked none. If you could draw up the ideal performance for an ace, Kershaw followed every step.
On the other side of the country this afternoon, two other big name stars were getting off to a good start. Bryce Harper crushed two homers – the only runs of the game – and Stephen Strasburg cruised through seven shutout innings as the Washington Nationals took the first step towards another National League East division title.
Justin Verlander could have used more pitch efficiency, but he still got five scoreless innings finished en route to an Opening Day win. He struck out seven. Chris Sale stepped up with 7.2 excellent innings in carrying the bulk of the load in Chicago’s shutout of the Kansas City Royals (and James Shields, the all-in acquisition by Dayton Moore, made one mistake in six innings, giving up the only run of the game). Troy Tulowitzki homered in his first game since last May for the Colorado Rockies. Felix Hernandez left after 7.2 innings for the Seattle Mariners – he struck out eight and gave up no runs.
Other faces in new places made a good first impression with their new teams. Torii Hunter had two hits in his Tigers debut. Justin Upton hit his first homer for the Atlanta Braves. Martin Prado, the key piece sent back to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Upton, had two doubles for his new club.
Some stars ended up the victim of circumstance though. Cain’s fine showing was overshadowed by Kershaw, and the lefty’s dominance ran over Buster Posey. Josh Hamilton‘s first game with the Los Angeles Angels saw him get caught in a low-temperature, low-scoring affair, and he struck out twice. Joey Votta ran into Jered Weaver‘s strong six inning start. The irresistible force meets the immovable object – something has to give.
That’s the great part of today. You see the best face the best. Everyone’s tied for first at the start of the day, but once the first pitch is thrown, to season’s story starts to be written.