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.
Clayton Kershaw is now likely to make a fourth consecutive Opening Day start for the Dodgers on March 22, three days after his 26th birthday, against Arizona in the first game of Major League Baseball’s Opening Series in Sydney, Australia. That became highly probable when Zack Greinke left his exhibition start after four pitches Thursday with a mild right calf strain.
If it becomes official, then all Kershaw has to do is maintain his pace and he could be known one day as the greatest Opening Day pitcher.
In his three Opening Day starts over the last three years, the left-hander has thrown 19 scoreless innings and the Dodgers are 3-0. That included seven innings (9 strikeouts) in a 2-1 home win over the Giants in 2011, on the way to a 21-5 record, 2.28 ERA and his first National League Cy Young Award, and then three innings (flu-ridden) in a 5-3 win at San Diego in 2012, on the way to 14-9/2.53 and Cy runnerup.
And that brings us to what happened last April 1 at Dodger Stadium against the rival and reigning World Champion Giants, a 4-0 shutout on the way to another Cy and even clubbing his first homer for the only scoring that mattered. We’d prefer to just let Vin Scully do the talking now as we recall that Opening Day and the two curtain calls, so please watch, relive it and share:
Stay tuned to dodgers.com as we wait for the eventual naming of the Dodgers’ rotation order, and we will continue to count down each day here until that Sydney opener, as we have done ever since we started 51 days out with Ichiro Suzuki. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Who should be No. 21?
Don Mattingly and Ryne Sandberg both became first-time All-Stars in 1984, playing on opposite teams that July at Candlestick Park. It began a five-year run in which each popular infielder was in the Midsummer Classic, including a classic 13-inning, 2-0 win by the NL in 1987 in Oakland, where both players started and batted second in their respective lineups. Those were their only meetings back in the day, because Mattingly and the Yankees trained in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., each spring while Sandberg and the Cubs headed for Mesa, Ariz., and there was neither Interleague Play nor a World Series for either man as an active player.
So here we are now, 23 days away from the Major League Baseball Opening Series on March 22 in Sydney, Australia, and we are going to bring both icons together in our own way. It makes sense for a few reasons. One, they are both now active MLB managers, Mattingly about to manage the Dodgers in that historic Sydney series against the D-backs, and Sandberg in his first spring as Phillies skipper after taking over for Charlie Manuel in the last 42 games (20-22) last season. They will manage against each other for the first time on April 21-24 at Dodger Stadium, neither with the club for whom he was famous as a player. Secondly, they were Opening Day fixtures, autograph-friendly and highly welcomed representations of a new beginning for Yankee and Cub fans when they took the field or appeared in box scores.
And for a third reason, and maybe most importantly, they would be together right now in the Hall of Fame if there were poetic justice. Sandberg got there matter-of-factly in 2005, and oh if Mattingly could only have given his speech right before his or right afterwards. Ryno’s run of consecutive All-Star Games lasted 10 years, double that of Donnie Baseball, whose time as a player was unfortunately cut short by back troubles. They were both Most Valuable Players of their leagues and they both won nine Gold Gloves, providing pop on the other side. They were basically one-club guys the whole way. The sad truth is that for Mattingly, it was just too short a run by the average Hall voter’s standards. But do they belong together in some kind of baseball immortality, if you were a fan of that era? The question is definitely yes.
So we’re doing our part here today, as we watch them prepare their NL clubs now, perhaps even to meet this October in a meaningful series. (And yes, they share a league with another No. 23 star-turned-manager, Arizona’s Kirk Gibson, making it almost a fraternity all their own.) For some perspective on just how much Mattingly and Sandberg meant to a generation of fans, long before they were managers, I thought I would ask my MLB.com colleague Gregg Klayman. Now our VP of Product Development here, Klayman is the guy who came up with such fan-favorite ideas as the annual All-Star Final Vote and MLB.com Beat the Streak. He grew up with both stars in a sense, his passion for the No. 23 only slightly divided.
“I love the fact that they’re both representing No. 23 in this countdown,” Klayman said. “When I was 12 years old and playing Strat-O-Matic baseball pretty much every single day of my life, they won co-MVPs of my league. They were both on my team that season. The problem was, they both wore 23, and we wrote their uniform numbers on the top of their cards, so one of them had to get 23. Since I was from New York, Mattingly got preference, got to wear 23, and I made Sandberg 19. I’m not really sure why I made him 19, but it was the closest number. I think Mike Schmidt had 20, Dwight Evans had 24, a lot of the numbers near there were taken. So I ended up giving him 19.
“I think they also represent the best at their position for the decade of definitely the ’80s. Sandberg’s career went a little deeper than Mattingly’s into the ’90s, too, but I think they represent a pretty good era of baseball, and it’s nice that they’re together.”
They are together now. Two class acts, inseparable in their impact back then, now teachers instead of students. Both 23 as we remember them, in home pinstripes, with Bleacher Bums or Bleacher Creatures behind them, harbingers of every spring. Tickets are now available to watch them back in uniform today. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Who should be No. 22?
Mike Piazza hit 427 home runs, including a Major League-record 396 as a catcher. Looking back at his 16-year career, four of those longballs especially command our attention now on the Opening Day Countdown Down Under blog, which enthusiastically tips its cap to No. 31 legends like Greg Maddux, Fergie Jenkins and Dave Winfield, as well as returning Red Sox ace Jon Lester.
Piazza already had made it to six straight All-Star Games during his early years with the Dodgers, but he became an Opening Day tour de force in the second half of his career once he got to the Mets. When he swung, it felt like Opening Day, with electricity. He went deep four times in a span of seven years from 2000-06. Here’s the rundown:
2000, Cubs at Mets: They opened that season in Tokyo, and 55,000 fans at the dome there saw Piazza bash a two-run homer in the eighth inning off reliever Brian Williams. It was a 5-3 loss, but it got the ball rolling toward the Mets’ first National League pennant since their 1986 title. Who can forget Piazza vs. Roger Clemens that fall?
2001, Mets at Braves. Everyone remembers the homer Piazza hit in the first MLB game after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Some consider that their greatest baseball memory. But do you remember what happened when Piazza first swung a bat that same season? It was a two-run homer off future Hall of Famer (and Countdown Down Under veteran) Tom Glavine, and the difference in a 6-4 Mets win. By the way, that photo you see at the top of this post is Piazza rounding the bases after one of two homers he hit against the same Braves the following week at Shea Stadium in the Mets’ home opener.
2004, Mets at Braves. Another Opening Day homer at Atlanta, this time a solo shot in the third inning off Russ Ortiz in a 7-2 Mets win. That made it three Opening Day homers for the Mets in five years, worthy of club lore.
2006, Giants at Padres. Piazza returned to Southern California and wore No. 33 in his only San Diego season, as the Padres had retired Winfield’s No. 31 jersey in 2001. But Piazza made his customary splash. In his Padres debut, he slugged a solo homer off Jason Schmidt in the second inning at Petco Park, providing San Diego’s first run of the year. Here’s the familiar jog:
Opening Day is just one of 162, but it is more food for thought for Hall of Fame voters next winter.
April 14 will mark the 50th anniversary of Sandy Koufax‘s only Opening Day start in a Hall of Fame career, and today we celebrate No. 32 as the countdown continues to Dodgers vs. D-backs on March 22 in Sydney, Australia.
Don Drysdale had generally handled the Opening Day assignment for the Dodgers in that era of their 1-2 domination on the mound following the club’s move from Brooklyn. The big right-hander started on Opening Day in 1958-61, ’63 and ’65. Johnny Podres had started it in ’62, the first game at Dodger Stadium. For Koufax, ’64 was his turn and his time.
Koufax had been named Most Valuable Player of the 1963 World Series, leading the Dodgers to a sweep of the Yankees and then receiving a unanimous Cy Young Award as well as National League MVP. Jane Leavy, author of his brilliant biography “Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy,” would write: “He was feted while JFK was mourned.” Indeed, lofty Koufax and Dodger expectations for ’64 were realized immediately as 50,451 fans at Dodger Stadium saw one of the greatest left-handers in Major League history scatter six singles and shut out the eventual World Series champion Cardinals. Bill White led off the fourth for St. Louis and then reached second on a wild pitch, but Koufax retired the next three in order and that was the only Cardinal baserunner to get that far. It was Koufax’s ninth complete game with no walks.
“It just happened that way,” Koufax said on Monday at the Dodgers’ Spring Training camp in Glendale, Ariz., where he returned as a special adviser to team chairman Mark Walter. “It’s kind of called an honor, but a lot depends on what happens in Spring Training. If you have three or four good pitchers, it might depend who you are playing.”
But behind the scenes, an ominous arm problem was developing. Koufax had thrown a high percentage of slow curves and changeups that spring, and his arm had almost doubled in size after one exhibition against the Yankees. Eight days after his Opening Day performance, Koufax would feel something “let go” in his left arm, requiring a few cortisone shots. He would throw his third no-hitter that ’64 season, but would be diagnosed with traumatic arthritis after closing out a 19-win season and would win a combined 53 games while pitching in pain over two final Cy Young seasons.
The great Koufax went out in style, became the youngest former player ever inducted in Cooperstown, and left his mark on Opening Day and Baseball. How great it is to see him back in camp again, asking reporters on Monday if they knew how he fared in that 1964 opener, the game’s history meeting its future in yet another new beginning under the sun.
The 2014 Dodgers follow their March 22-23 Opening Series at Sydney with three games at San Diego and then their home opener on April 4 against the rival Giants. Let us know who should be No. 31 in our countdown in the comments below, and plan your own season at the ballpark. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Eddie Murray played in 3,026 games over 21 years in The Show and wore No. 33 for all of them, and the very first time was Opening Day of 1977 for the Orioles in front of 31,307 at old Memorial Stadium. There were future Hall of Famers all over the place. One was Baltimore manager Earl Weaver, who immediately penciled in the young switch-hitter from Los Angeles as his No. 5 hitter. Jim Palmer and Bert Blyleven dueled on the mound that day. Gaylord Perry was on the Rangers’ staff, and Brooks Robinson was a Baltimore reserve in the sunset season of his career.
Murray was 1 for 4 against Blyleven. After being retired his first two times up in the Major League debut, Murray slapped a single that led to the Orioles’ only run in a 2-1 loss.
For a similar theme, fast-forward five years at the same ballpark: April 5, 1982. Murray was one of three future Hall of Famers in the lineup as the Royals visited the Orioles. The other two included a young Baltimore teammate named Cal Ripken Jr., who was making his first Opening Day appearance after a partial season in 1981, and George Brett on the Kansas City side. Murray hit one of his 504 career homers that day, and was the exclamation mark on a huge day for the Orioles. The first baseman slugged a grand slam off Dennis Leonard in the third inning, turning a 2-1 lead into a romp.
After 12 years in Baltimore, Murray went on to play for the Dodgers, Mets, Indians, Orioles, Angels and Dodgers, in order. Every Opening Day, you expected to see Murray somewhere, and in a leading role. That single off Blyleven was his first of 3,255 hits, and that homer off Leonard was one of 504. Only Willie Mays and Hank Aaron had reached the 3,000 and 500 benchmarks before, and no one ever played first base than Murray by the time he was done. In 2003, Murray was elected to the Hall of Fame — joining his former Locke High School teammate, Ozzie Smith, and the familiar cheers of “EDDIE! EDDIE!” rang out, as they had on Opening Days past. As you settle into the return of players to Spring Training, flash back to the days of Eddie:
Who should be No. 32 in our Opening Day Countdown Down Under? That promises to be a suspenseful one, if you’ve done your homework or recall some of the candidates. Leave suggestions in the comments plan your own 2014 season as the Orioles prepare to open theirs on March 31 against Boston at Camden Yards. MLB Schedule | Tickets