Dan's Dugout: Opening Day Surprises to Remember • Latino Sports

Baseball

Dan’s Dugout: Opening Day Surprises to Remember

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FLUSHING, NY – It happens every spring: Opening Day of the baseball season is full of surprises.

Even Las Vegas oddsmakers couldn’t have predicted any of the following events that occurred on the first day of the 2018 season:

  • Giancarlo Stanton not only homered in his first Yankee at-bat but joined Roger Maris as the only Yankees ever to hit two home runs in their first games with the team
  • Unsung veteran Nick Markakis, who hit a grand total of eight home runs last year, won the Braves game at Sun Trust Park with a three-run, two-out, ninth-inning homer that was the first walk-off homer of his 13-year career
  • Braves starting catcher and cleanup hitter Tyler Flowers tweaked an oblique in his first at-bat and went on the disabled list

Nick Markakis took 13 years to collect a walk-off homer               Credit: Topps Company

• Ian Happ and J.A. Happ had mixed results: Ian, the Cubs outfielder, became the first man since Dwight Evans of the 1986 Red Sox to homer on the first pitch of the new season, while the Toronto pitcher fell victim to Yankee longballs and lost the home opener at the Rogers Centre
• Flawless during spring training, Dodgers workhorse Clayton Kershaw yielded just one run – a Joe Panik homer that gave the Giants a 1-0 road win over their arch-rivals
• That game was preceded by Jennifer Lopez planting a kiss on beau Alex Rodriguez, making his debut in the ESPN broadcast booth
• Kate Upton’s fiancee, Justin Verlander, not only won Houston’s Opening Day nod over fellow Astros ace Dallas Keuchel but threw six scoreless innings to top Texas – his 10th win in 11 decisions (including postseason) since joining the ‘stros last August
• After hitting five home runs and winning World Series MVP honors for Houston, George Springer led off the Astros opener with a home run for the second straight year
• With three home runs, Matt Davidson not only joined George Bell, Dmitri Young, and Tuffy Rhodes as the only men with three-homer openers but helped the Chicago White Sox tie a major-league mark with six Opening Day home runs – while playing in Kansas City’s pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium

Noah Syndergaard reached double digits
Credit: George Napolitano

• Noah Syndergaard tweeted “Pay Up” to a Mets fan who promised to dye his brown hair blond if the pitcher reached double digits in strikeouts (he fanned 10 in six innings)
• The Minnesota Twins learned that paying big bucks to a 41-year-old closer might not be a great ideas: Adam Jones hit Fernando Rodney’s first pitch for a game-winning home run in the 11th inning at Baltimore
• On the plus side, the Twins were ecstatic with the work of ex-Rays starter Jake Odorizzi, who threw six scoreless frames in cozy Camden Yards to keep the game scoreless
• Cleveland’s Corey Kluber didn’t get a win either but went the route (his MLB-best 16th since 2014) in a 2-1 loss to Seattle ace Felix Hernandez in a matchup of Cy Young Award winners
• Age is a matter of mind; if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter – the Mariners won with Ichiro Suzuki, 44, started in left field for Seattle and 39-year-old DH Nelson Cruz hit the game-winning home run against Kluber
• Newcomers Evan Longoria (Giants) and Marcell Ozuna (Cardinals) both went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in their first games with their new teams
• With Aaron Hicks and Hope Hicks also in the headlines, Cardinals rookie Jordan Hicks not only was the first pitcher to hit 100 mph but did it with a 100.3 reading on the very first pitch of his career
• A more heralded rookie, Japanese import Shohei Ohtani, singled in his first at-bat after surviving such a poor spring training that the Angels almost assigned him to the minor leagues

  • After stealing one base all of last year (and none for the Mets in the first four months), Jay Bruce not only stole the first base of any player but did it against rifle-armed Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina

Shohei Ohtani singled in his first MLB at-bat

• Late-winter free agent signee Eduardo Nunez was an even more unlikely hero, slicing an inside-the-park home run that got past colliding Tampa Bay outfielders Kevin Kiermaier and Denard Span
• Span, acquired in the Evan Longoria trade, later made amends with a bases-loaded triple in a six-run eighth – turning a 4-0 loss into a 6-4 win (Boston’s bullpen never blew a four-run, eighth-inning lead in all of 2017)
• By saying the game for Tampa Bay, Alex Colome picked up where he left off after leading the majors with 47 saves last year – and now has 85 saves since the start of 2016
• Red Sox ace Chris Sale, the Florida native who opened the 2018 season on the Tropicana Field mound, attended the first game at the domed park 20 years ago on his ninth birthday

Anthony Rizzo comes home after a long home run

• Fellow Florida native Anthony Rizzo, now the Cubs first baseman, completed his circuit of the bases after a second-inning homer in Miami by touching the uniform patch honoring the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School rampage
• Rizzo, who hugs the plate, also managed to get hit by a pitch – something he did 24 times, most in the majors, last year and 30 times, also a big-league high, three years ago
• After getting the most years (8) of any player coming out of free agency, San Diego first baseman Eric Hosmer went 0-for-4 against Milwaukee in a game the Brewers needed 12 innings to win
• The Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Colorado Rockies again – for the ninth time in their last 11 meetings, including the 2017 wild-card game
• The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim not only own the longest team name in the majors but also the longest Opening Day losing streak, which they extended to five years Thursday
• Rusty Staub, who had 500 hits with four different teams, reminded us with his passing that he was one of four players who homered for and against the Mets on Opening Day, joining Dave Kingman, Bobby Bonilla, and Gary Carter
• After holding out all spring, National League saves leader Greg Holland finally found a home when he signed a one-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals on Opening Day. Urged to hold firm by agent Scott Boras, Holland cost himself millions by not accepting numerous earlier offers.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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