We counted down to Opening Day on this MLB.com blog starting in January, we tracked all the firsts throughout MLB Opening Series at Sydney, and now we keep going through Opening Night and then all Opening Week extravaganzas. Join MLB.com’s Mark Newman here, follow Dodgers-Padres live with MLB.com Gameday and on ESPN.
It was Tommy Herr at second base for St. Louis in three World Series during the 1980s and Wilbur Wood with four straight 20-win seasons for the White Sox. It was a pair of closers, Sparky Lyle of the Yankees and Mike Marshall of the Dodgers, winning Cy Young Awards and leading their clubs to World Series in the 1970s. It’s still Jose Molina behind the plate for someone, presently the Rays, in a long career that included an Opening Day homer off Jamie Moyer for the Angels in 2004. There’s a Hall of Famer to think about in Bert Blyleven, memories of Cesar Cedeno’s rainbow jersey, Curt Simmons and Vada Pinson, and an active star in Giants catcher Buster Posey. Narrowing the field down to one player each day here is an exercise in nostalgic fun.
But the Opening Day Countdown Down Under has our man — in this case really representing a trio — now that we are 28 days away from Major League Baseball’s Opening Series on March 22 in Sydney, Australia.
Flash back to the Houston Astrodome on April 9, 1990. Lou Piniella’s Cincinnati Reds tied the score at 4-4 in the top of the sixth. Left-hander Norm Charlton came out of the bullpen for the bottom of that inning and threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings. Power righty Rob Dibble came in with two out in the eighth to bail Charlton out of a first-and-third jam and retire the side, and kept it scoreless through one out in the 10th. Lefty Randy Myers got Dibble out of a first-and-third jam by retiring the next two batters. Barry Larkin’s bases-loaded triple in the top of the 11th led to four runs and an 8-4 Reds triumph, and Myers finished it off to get the win.
Thus was born “The Nasty Boys” — among the most effective collaborative late-inning bullpens in Major League history, if not the best. With that win, Piniella’s club proceeded to win Cincinnati’s last World Series title and did so in wire-to-wire fashion — the first National League club to do so. The same Randy Myers who won that decision and saved 31 games was the pitcher on the mound who threw the last pitch, getting Carney Lansford to foul out to Todd Benzinger as the Reds shocked the favored Oakland A’s in a sweep.
Opening Day is about possibility, and in that case it was the epitome of starting something big in a season bookended by the ultimate celebration scene. Today we honor No. 28, but really the whole Nasty Boys bunch, including No. 37 Charlton and No. 49 Dibble, a trio that was basically untouchable that postseason.
Join in the debate in the comments below as we next tackle a major question at No. 27 (do you like then or now?), and start planning your own season as we await another traditional Opening Day in Cincinnati and the possibility of another magical ride like 1990. MLB Schedule | Tickets
So here’s the new definition of a “personal day”: It’s a day within our Opening Day Countdown Down Under when one particular number is personal to you. I’ve seen this from colleagues and readers along the way, and we’ll see it all the way through March 22, when Major League Baseball opens its season for the first time in Sydney, Australia. Today is my personal day.
Rod Carew was my idol as a boy in the Midwest, and I would do anything to watch him swing a bat. On April 11, 1967, Carew was a rookie second baseman as Minnesota opened its season at Baltimore. Batting sixth in the lineup — after Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew and Bobby Allison — Carew stepped up to the left side of the plate for his first MLB at-bat. It was the second inning, and Dave McNally was on the mound for the reigning world champs, having won the Game 4 clincher the previous fall.
Here is exactly what that Opening Day moment brought to baseball history: Crack, single, 2-for-4, Rookie of the Year, 18 All-Star selections in his first 18 seasons (1967-78 with the Twins, ’79-84 with the Angels), 3,053 career hits, seven batting titles, 1991 induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. As fate would have it, I was a Giants beat writer for the San Jose Mercury News at the time of that induction weekend, had checked his name as a new Baseball Writers’ Association of America voter (still am), and that was my first journey to Cooperstown, because the Giants were there to play the Twins in an exhibition.
Interviewing Carew for the first time, there at the Hall that weekend, hearing his speech and thinking back over his career, watching him in so many Midsummer Classics, was the perfect alignment of one fan’s cosmos.
His bat was often described more as a magic wand, and it was, waving it wherever he wanted the ball to go. When I visit the Hall’s Gallery these days for inspiration, that is the first plaque I touch. Then Babe.
You probably can relate to this personal day in your own way. Somewhere in the remaining 28 days till Sydney very well could be your boyhood hero, or perhaps your father’s, or maybe it is your own child’s idol on a roster today. Please share, reblog, use the comments below to state your own case as we decide which Opening Day moments to honor while celebrating the return of the National Pastime and a life tradition. Who should be No. 28? MLB Schedule | Tickets – Mark Newman, MLB.com
Now that we’ve just celebrated Hank Aaron’s 80th birthday, don’t go anywhere. We are going to keep celebrating No. 44. This season will mark the 40th anniversary of the year Hammerin’ Hank quickly tied and passed Babe Ruth’s iconic home run record, on his way to 755 career homers and baseball immortality.
Aaron wasted no time in 1974, tying Ruth in his first at-bat of Opening Day at Riverfront Park in Cincinnati on April 4. It was the only game scheduled that day, as the Reds had the honor of opening first, a day before others. On a 3-and-1 pitch from Reds starter Jack Billingham, with two runners on, Aaron drove a shot over the head of left fielder Pete Rose and toward the bunting in left-center, beyond the wall for No. 714. In the photo above, that’s future Hall of Famer Johnny Bench behind the plate and four-time World Series umpire Ed Vargo, both eyeing the flight of the historic ball. Watch:
“I’m just glad it’s almost over with,” Aaron quipped when given the microphone to say a few words to the crowd after an on-field presentation. Amid the laughter in the ballpark at that time, few could possibly know exactly how much Aaron meant what he said. He would break Ruth’s record two games later back home in Atlanta, and the world would learn what degree of hate this former Negro Leaguer from Mobile, Ala., had endured behind the scenes on the way to professional sport’s greatest individual record — through piles of mail filled with threats and racial slurs. Aaron rose above it, having a profound impact on new generations that goes on today, and he plays a part in every World Series with his presentation of the Hank Aaron Award for the top offensive performers in each league.
“It’s a great thing to be the man who hit the most home run, but it’s a greater thing to be the man who did the most with the home runs he hit,” Aaron said later in his biography “I Had A Hammer.” “So as long as there’s a chance that maybe I can hammer out a little justice now and then, or a little opportunity here and there, I intend to do as I always have — keep swinging.”
The 2014 Braves open the regular season March 31 at Milwaukee, and their home opener is April 8 against the Mets. Who should be No. 43 in our countdown? Offer your suggestions in the comments below and make plans to see some games. MLB Schedule | Order Tickets
Pablo Sandoval went 2-for-5 for the Giants at Arizona on April 6, 2012. Opening Day is all about beginnings, a stage for someone to create the performance of a lifetime, and for Panda and the Giants it was the beginning of something truly big. It began his 19-game hitting streak to start the season, breaking the Giants franchise record set by Johnny Rucker in 1945. It also was the beginning of a year in which Sandoval would have a huge All-Star Game triple and go on to World Series MVP, homering three times in Game 1 on the way to a Giants sweep at Detroit. It happened like this:
Sandoval will report to Scottsdale, Ariz., this month as a sleeker version of the player who last season batted .278 with 14 homers, 79 RBIs and 52 runs. He and the Giants open the season March 31 at Arizona, and one week later the teams meet again in the Giants’ home opener. Who should be No. 47? MLB Schedule | Order Tickets