April 5, 1999. Vlad Guerrero’s first at-bat of the season is a two-run homer off Francisco Cordova in the first inning at Pittsburgh, leading the Montreal Expos to a 9-2 victory. Guerrero goes 3-for-5 with 4 RBIs en route to his first All-Star selection.
April 3, 2000. Guerrero’s first at-bat of the season is an RBI single off Dodgers starter Kevin Brown. Guerrero then hits his first two of 44 homers that season, a 2-run shot and a solo homer — accounting for all the Montreal runs in a 10-4 loss at Olympic Stadium.
April 2, 2001. Top of the 10th, Expos and Cubs tied, 4-4, in front of an Opening Day crowd of 38,466 at Wrigley Field. Two out, Montreal has men at the corners. Guerrero comes to the plate. Cubs manager Don Baylor brings right-hander Todd Van Poppel in to replace Mark Fyhrie to keep it tied. Guerrero singles to center on a 3-1 pitch to drive in Jose Vidro with the eventual winning run.
April 2, 2002. Guerrero leads the Majors with an incredible 709 plate appearances in this season, the first five on this Opening Day at Montreal against the Marlins. Braden Looper comes in to protect a 6-4 Marlins lead. With two out and men at the corners, Vidro hits a two-run single to tie the score. That brings up Guerrero, who is already 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs. In the ultimate show of Opening Day respect, Marlins manager Jeff Torborg has Looper intentionally walk Guerrero to load the bases, and Orlando Cabrera promptly wins the game with a walk-off single.
You get the idea. There was a lot of that damage and disruption going on when Guerrero was in the lineup on Opening Day, and you didn’t even think about running on his cannon arm in right, either. The 2004 National League MVP finished his marvelous career with 449 homers, 2,590 hits and a 140 OPS+, helping the Rangers to a World Series in 2010, officially announcing his retirement last September after a career with the Expos, Angels, Rangers and Orioles. He turned 39 this month and is already a missed presence on the field — one of the most exciting players of his time.
Here was the first homer he ever hit, in 1996:
Here was his arm:
Angels fans will remember this one well . . .
So that’s our pick today as we are 27 days away from MLB Opening Series March 22-23 in Sydney — now inside a month away. As for a certain other Dominican who is already in the Hall of Fame, we raise our cap — and our leg kick — high on this day for the great Juan Marichal, who was 6-2 with two no-decisions in 10 Opening Days for the Giants. Carlton Fisk was a Hall of Fame fixture as 27 for Boston, so good that he wound up with a retired 72 as well with the White Sox. There was Scott Rolen and that amazing WAR, leading St. Louis to the championship in 2006. And Mike Trout, we can’t wait to see him March 31 against the visiting Mariners, now that he has one Opening Day under his belt last year.
April 12, 1965, was historic in Major League Baseball for one reason: It was the first National League game at the Astrodome, a Houston victory over the Phillies that ushered in a new era in sports architecture.
Perhaps you also could cite Bob Gibson‘s Opening Day start at Wrigley Field on that day, because it was the first such assignment in the Hall of Famer’s glorious career. Actually, though, it was not exactly how Gibson had imagined it. He was staked to a 5-0 lead by the Cardinals in the top of the first, then proceeded to exit after 3 1/3 innings, allowing five earned runs. The Cardinals and the Cubs would play to a 10-10 tie, in the days when there were no lights at the Friendly Confines.
So let’s just move on to the one Bob Gibson Opening Day appearance we really want to talk about: 1967. First of all, a small proviso: choosing Gibby at No. 45 was not an automatic nod, at least not East of the Arch. Pedro Martinez started every Opening Day for Boston from 1998-2004, and his debut after coming over from Montreal was a thing of beauty, going seven scoreless and whiffing 11 A’s. Tug McGraw wore it well in Philly, and we recall John Candelaria’s 1978 shutout for Pittsburgh. This whole Opening Day Countdown Down Under exercise is about to get tougher with each passing day, another reason I hope you will feel free to speak up with suggestions in the comments.
Now flash back to April 11, 1967. Gibson and fellow future Hall of Famer Juan Marichal of the Giants started in front of 38,117 at Busch Stadium. Gibson struck out 13 Giants, walked none and scattered five hits in a 6-0 shutout, and remember that a couple of Willies named Mays and McCovey were on the other side, combining to go 0-for-8 with four K’s.
It was the first in a perfect pair of 1967 bookends for the great right-hander. Gibson began the year with that dominating effort, and he ended it by being named World Series Most Valuable Player following his third complete-game victory (pictured at right) over Boston in the Fall Classic, a three-hitter in Game 7 for “El Birdos.” Here are videos below of Gibson homering to give himself a 3-0 lead in the clincher, and striking out George Scott for the clincher:
Gibson went to that year’s All-Star Game as a 10-game winner, missed a big chunk of the second half after taking a Roberto Clemente line drive off the right leg, and set the stage for his nonpareil 1968 season (1.12 ERA) to follow. Gibson made 10 Opening Day starts for the Cardinals from 1965-75, yielding only to lefty Curt Simmons for the ’66 honor, and in later years the spectacle of returning legends like Gibson in red sportcoats, introduced again amongst Clydesdales and bunting, became a traditional reason to go to a season debut at Busch:
The 2014 Cardinals follow up their National League pennant-winning season by opening at Cincinnati on March 31 and then starting the home schedule against the Reds on April 7. MLB Schedule | Order Tickets