Tagged: Major League Baseball

27 Days – Vlad Guerrero

Vlad Guerrero

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.

Vlad GuerreroApril 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.

Who should be No. 26? Leave your comments below.  MLB Schedule | Tickets

28 Days – Randy Myers & The Nasty Boys

Randy Myers

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.

Norm Charlton, Randy Myers, Rob Dibble - The Nasty BoysBut 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.

The Nasty BoysThus 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

29 Days – Rod Carew

Rod Carew

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 CarewRod 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.

Rod CarewHere 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.

Rod CarewInterviewing 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

30 Days – Orlando Cepeda

Orlando Cepeda

“Through baseball I built a name for myself,” Orlando Cepeda said 15 years ago in his Hall of Fame Induction speech, and he began building it right away. Ask Cepeda today for one hit that meant the most in his life, and he will tell you that it was his first one in the Majors, because it came in such remarkable circumstances: the Giants’ and Dodgers’ first game on the West Coast, his MLB debut.

It was April 15, 1958, and the New York Giants were now the San Francisco Giants opening their new world before 23,448 fans at Seals Stadium. The Brooklyn Dodgers were now the Los Angeles Dodgers, and on the mound for them was a blossoming star, Don Drysdale, one of many future Hall of Famers in the ballpark. Cepeda, a brute force from Puerto Rico known as the “Baby Bull,” started at first base and grounded out to third in the second inning. In the bottom of the fourth, Cepeda flied out to left.

Fortunately for the rookie, Drysdale was getting roughed up elsewhere. The righty was chased later that inning with the Giants ahead, 4-0, and charged with his fifth and sixth runs when Willie Mays singled to the right side. Then with one out in the fifth, Drysdale was out of the picture and Cepeda achieved a lasting moment against the pitcher who replaced him that game.

Orlando Cepeda“My first big-league hit, Opening Day, I hit a home run of Don Bessent,” Cepeda said told MLB.com. “My first big-league hit? Incredible. I’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget that game. It was my biggest thrill, my first game in the big leagues.”

Cepeda wound up 1 for his first 17 in the Majors, so that is another reason he appreciates that first hit so much today. He recovered to be named National League Rookie of the Year that season and then was an All-Star the next six consecutive seasons. Cepeda was traded to the Cardinals for Ray Sadecki in May of 1966, and the next year batted .325 with 25 home runs and 111 RBIs in leading St. Louis to a world championship and earning NL MVP honors.

More Opening Day memories are waiting, starting with the MLB Opening Series in Sydney on March 22-23. Who should be No. 29 in our countdown? Suggest away in the comments below and make plans of your own this season. MLB Schedule | Tickets

31 Days – Mike Piazza

Mike Piazza

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:

Mike Piazza

Opening Day is just one of 162, but it is more food for thought for Hall of Fame voters next winter.

32 Days – Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax

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.

Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax poses for a portrait in 1962. (Photo by Louis Requena/MLB Photos)

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.”

Sandy KoufaxBut 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

33 Days – Eddie Murray

Eddie MurrayEddie 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

34 Days – David Ortiz

David Ortiz

Today we tip our cap to Nolan Ryan, Rollie Fingers, Kirby Puckett, Fernando Valenzuela and current Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, all greats who have shared 34. But Baseball is all about continuation and we are picking up where we left off here at the Opening Day Countdown Down Under, especially to get through a winter like this one.

David Ortiz was handed a World Series Most Valuable Player trophy on the last night of live Major League Baseball, and he returns for a 12th season in No. 34 as the reigning World Champions open the 2014 regular season March 31 at Baltimore. Big Papi has homered four times on Opening Day. The first two were back-to-back with the Twins in 2001-02, the third was a two-run shot off Kevin Milwood in a 2006 Red Sox win at Texas, and the fourth was this blast off Darren Oliver that tied the score at 5-5 three years ago at Texas:

Take one look back at a postseason run for the ages, including a .688 average in the Fall Classic against St. Louis. . . .

. . . then think warm thoughts, let us know who should be No. 33 in our countdown to Sydney, and plan your own 2014 season. MLB Schedule | Tickets

35 Days – Big Hurt

Frank ThomasIn honor of his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame this summer, the Opening Day Countdown Down Under blog is recognizing Frank Thomas as we reach 35 days until Major League Baseball’s Opening Series March 22 at Sydney. There are three things in particular we wanted to share about the Big Hurt on the first day of a season:

1. Amazingly, he played in 14 consecutive Opening Day games from 1991-2004 and every one of them was on the road. Major League Baseball typically scheduled the White Sox in a more favorable climate for early spring, meaning White Sox fans always had to follow Thomas in an opener via broadcast unless they traveled with the club. He did not play in the 2005 opener when the club finally opened at home en route to a title.

2. Thomas hit safely in each Opening Day appearance during that White Sox run except 1993, when he was 0 for 3 but walked twice and scored once in a 10-5 win at Minnesota. He was 19 for 46 (.413) with two homers, 13 runs and seven RBIs on Opening Day with the White Sox.

3. Now for the real reason we chose Thomas over Phil Niekro or Justin Verlander for today’s post. He homered off Randy Johnson on Opening Day — not once, but twice. Ten years apart with two different teams. The first one was on the first pitch Thomas saw in 1996 at Seattle. The second was a decade later in his first at-bat for Oakland, with Big Unit pitching for the Yankees. Thanks to the MLB.com video crew for unearthing this footage, so you can see them for yourself:

Who should follow Thomas at 34 Days in our countdown? Keep coming back as we add a new Opening Day moment each midnight ET on the way to Sydney and plan for your season at the ballpark. MLB Schedule | Tickets

36 Days – Robin Roberts

Robin RobertsGaylord Perry? Jim Kaat? Jered Weaver? Jerry Koosman? There are so many choices for this day in the Opening Day Countdown Down Under as we mark the time left until Major League Baseball begins its regular season on March 22 in Sydney, Australia. But when you hold the Major League record for consecutive Opening Day starts for the same team at 12, this is your place.

Robin Roberts started for the Phillies on April 18, 1950, in front of 29,074 fans at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. Facing the defending National League champs from Brooklyn, the right-hander from Springfield, Ill., didn’t let a Dodger past first base until the seventh inning, and by then the Phillies had an 8-0 lead. Roberts went on to the first of 21 complete games that season, and that was just the beginning. He also went on to his first of six straight 20-win seasons, his first of seven straight All-Star selections, and led that group of young Phillies known affectionately as the “Whiz Kids” to their first World Series in 35 years, ultimately swept by the Yankees that fall.

Roberts also beat the Dodgers the next Opening Day, so little wonder then that the Phillies kept a good thing going. The greatest righty in Phillies history would start every Opening Day after that through the 1961 season (5-6 with one no-decision in those outings), so a generation of fans knew it was officially Baseball Season when No. 36 made his first appearance. Roberts dominated on the hill with two pitches, fastball and curve, and a smooth and efficient motion with a penchant for finishing what he started. He passed away in May 2010 at the age of 83 as a beloved Hall of Famer, and he left a legacy that included Opening Day personification.

Don Newcombe was the Dodgers’ opposing pitcher that day in 1950 at Shibe, and he said it was “a pleasure to pitch” and always braced for a “battle” against Roberts for so many games in their careers. Watch:

Here is a video look back at Roberts’ career:

Robin RobertsThe 2014 Phillies open the regular season March 31 at Texas and then host Milwaukee on April 7 in the home opener at Citizens Bank Park. Who should follow Roberts at 35 Days in our countdown? Keep coming back as we add a new Opening Day moment each midnight ET on the way to Sydney and plan for your season at the ballpark. MLB Schedule | Tickets