The Orioles have been an Opening Day force, winning 10 of their last 13 games on that occasion. Last year, it was Adam Jones who provided the key blow, scorching an 0-2, 98-mph two-seamer from Rays reliever Jake McGee to the wall in left center for a two-run double. That provided the tying and go-ahead runs in a 7-4 Baltimore victory at Tropicana Field. Watch:
Jones already had doubled in the first and singled in the third. He finished that game 3-for-5 with two runs scored, on his way to 100 runs for the season, so it was hardly “just one of 162.” Adams went on to his second consecutive (third overall) All-Star selection, finishing 2013 with 33 home runs, 108 RBIs, a .285 average and a second straight Gold Glove in center field. Continue reading
You probably already know that on April 8, 1975, Frank Robinson, presently Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of baseball development, became baseball’s first black manager. It was a moment that another Robinson, Jackie, the first black MLB player, always wanted to see, but it came nearly three years after the latter’s passing. Frank Robinson was player-manager for the Indians that day in a 5-3 victory over the Yankees, in front of 56,715 at Municipal Stadium.But did you know this: Robinson homered in his first at-bat of that game, a solo shot off Doc Medich in the first. It was a 2-2 fastball low and away. He tipped his cap reaching the plate, saying later that was for his wife, who was seated with their son and daughter.
“Any home run is a thrill, but I’ve got to admit, this one was a bigger thrill,” Robinson said of what was then his 575th of 586 career homers. He would play one more season after that one.
Of course, there were many more memorable Opening Day moments for Robinson, having won Most Valuable Players awards in both leagues, first with Cincinnati and then with Baltimore. He calls it nearly impossible to choose one favorite hit out of his 2,943 career hits, but here is one story he told me. It happened for Cincinnati in 1956:
“My first one. My first hit in the big leagues. Double off the center-field wall against the St. Louis Cardinals, playing against Stan Musial. It was exciting for me. Opening Day. Never forget the first one. You always remember the first one. You always hope a lot more are going to come after that, but you’re not sure.”
I asked who was pitching, and he said, “Vinegar Bend Mizell. Told you, you’ll never forget it. He became a Congressman later.”
The Opening Day Countdown Down Under blog would be remiss without mentioning greats like Mike Schmidt, Lou Brock and Don Sutton here, and let’s not forget a moment at Arizona in 2001 when a batter and catcher were together in a Game 7 moment of history, both wearing No. 20, and their names were Luis Gonzalez and Jorge Posada. Frank White . . . Kevin Youkilis . . . the memories of seasons past are rich, and we prepare to welcome a new one starting March 22 in Sydney. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Who should be No. 19?
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.
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
Camden Yards changed the game in Major League Baseball, ushering in an era of retro-modern ballparks and ultimately transforming most of today’s venues. So for Opening Day claims to fame, Rick Sutcliffe could simply point to April 6, 1992, when he followed up President George H.W. Bush’s ceremonial first by pitch by throwing the first real pitch in the history of the Orioles’ current home — on the way to a 2-0 shutout against Cleveland. Let’s start with a quick remembrance of that outing to equip you with a potential trivia stumper for your friends, complete with a look at his ’92 Opening Day delivery pictured here and the video below:
Of course, we’re here for more than trivia assistance. The Opening Day Countdown Down Under wayback machine is celebrating the essence of Opening Day through the jersey numbers of yore, and we’re going a little more old-school than that for No. 40.
This one’s for Cubbie fans.
When you think of Sutcliffe, who made nine overall Opening Day starts in his career, you probably think of the right-hander (and current broadcaster) who wore No. 40 for Chicago and so often walked off the mound after the top of the seventh to segue into Harry Caray’s rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” up in the press box. It was a way of life, as sure as Cubs on WGN, and Sutcliffe started each Opening Day for the Cubs from 1985-89.
Take a close look at April 9, 1985. There were still no lights at Wrigley Field then (not until ’88). Sutcliffe was the man in the NL. In ’84, he had come over to Chicago in a seven-player trade from Cleveland that sent Joe Carter to the Tribe, and Sutcliffe had promptly gone an unconscious 16-1 to lead the Cubs to within one win of a World Series berth. Sutcliffe, 20-6 overall that season and the NL Cy Young Award winner, even had knocked one out of the entire ballpark to help his own cause against San Diego in that National League Championship Series, as you can see in this MLB.com video:
Now it was his first Opening Day as a Cub, and Sutcliffe did not disappoint the capacity crowd in the Friendly Confines. He nursed a 2-0 lead over the Pirates into the eighth inning, finally tiring and being replaced by Lee Smith after giving up a Jason Thompson RBI single. Big Lee closed the deal, and it was a happy opener at Wrigley.
The 2014 Cubs open the season March 31 at Pittsburgh, and their home opener is April 4 against the Phillies. Who should be No. 39 in our countdown? Suggest away in the comments below. MLB Schedule | Order Tickets