Opening Day has came and went and was filled with excitement despite a slate of only 6 games on this 31st day of March. We saw some great pitching performances, plenty of household names going deep, 2 new managers getting their first win with their new teams, the season’s first walk off home run and extra inning game. Let’s take a look at how the slate of 6 played out.
The Braves kicked it off this afternoon against the Nationals in the first NL East divisional battle of the year. Derek Lowe looked very good in his first start of the season shutting down the Nats bats over 5.2 innings and fanning 6 in the process. Lowe picked up right where he left off; he was 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA over 30.2 innings in September last season. Johnny Venters and Craig Kimbrel helped to shut the door in the 8th and 9th in the Braves 2-0 showing that they could quite possibly be the best lefty-righty duo in any 2011 bullpen. Remember last season when Jason Heyward went deep in his first Major League at bat? Well he did it again today when he hit a shot in the first at bat of his sophomore campaign. This Heyward kid is a special player.
The Yankees also started their season at 1:05 today, taking on the Tigers in the Bronx. This was a battle of aces and perennial American League Cy Young candidates; CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander. Justin Verlander looked filthy early for the Tigers but left a pitch up that Mark Teixeira blasted in the the left field stands for a 3 run bomb. The key players in this game were the trio involved in the trade between Detroit and the Yankees before the 2010 season. For those who do not remember the Tigers shipped Curtis Granderson to the Yanks for blue chip prospect Austin Jackson and lefty reliever Phil Coke. Not only did the Grandy man hit the go ahead homer that would ultimately be the game winner for the Yankees(off of Coke) he made numerous web gem caliber catches in centerfield saving extra base hits. Austin Jackson struggled at the plate striking out 3 times. Another big story was the Yankees bullpen which looked absolutely filthy. Joba, Soriano and Mariano combined for 3 innings, struck out 3 and did not allow a base runner. They will be shortening a lot of games this year.
Cincy and Milwaukee had the most exciting inning of the day. I can’t say it was the most feature=player_embedded]exciting game because the Brewers were in the drivers seat all game long until the bottom of the 9th. John Axford entered the game for the Brewers for his first save opportunity of the year with the Brew Crew up 6-3. He had no command of his pitches and loaded the bases full of Reds before even recording an out. A fluke play involving a missed tag by third baseman Casey McGehee lead to this unfavorable predicament. The entire city of Cincinnati thought Jonny Gomes had ended the game with a grand slam to center field but the shot fell short and ended up being only a sac fly. This made no difference because Ramon Hernandez took an Axford fastball the other way with enough juice behind it to clear the rightfield wall. The Reds came back from 3 down and won in walk off fashion on Opening Day.
The matchup between the Angels and Royals was not overly exciting in any way. Jered Weaver logged a dominant performance working 6.1 innings allowing only 4 base runners and striking out 6 Royals. The Angels appear to have the best defensive outfield in the Majors, they have 3 gold glove caliber centerfielders in Peter Bourjos, Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter out there. They will be covering more ground than anyone else this season. Hunter hit a moonshot off Luke Hochevar, getting his season off on the right foot.
The first extra inning game of the season happened out in St. Louis this afternoon. The Padres were able to chip away at the Cardinals slim lead and force extra innings with 2 outs in the 9th. Ryan Franklin, a closer who pitches to contact as opposed to more standard fireballing closer, gave up a home run to dead center to Cameron Maybin; Franklin only needed 1 out to end the game. The Padres went on to win the game in extra innings when Jon Jay flubbed a throw to cut off man Ryan Theroit allowing Chase Headley to score the go ahead run. Can’t talk about this game without mentioning that Albert Pujols had the worse game of his career going 0 for 5 with 3 GIDPs. It would be absurd for us to read too much into this and think Albert won’t be Albert but it is still a notable fact.
The final game of the night has just finished up on ESPN. This was the National League’s answer to Sabathia-Verlander; Tim Lincecum for the Giants vs. Clayton Kershaw for the Dodgers. While Lincecum had a good outing(7 IP, 1 R but 0 ER and 5 strikeouts,) Kershaw looked absolutely filthy and dominated this game. Kershaw’s pitches appeared to have so much movement on them it is a mystery how anyone was able to make contact with them. He ended up striking out 8 batters through 7 before handing the ball off to Kuo and Broxton who closed the door for the Dodgers giving them a 2-1 win. A lot of people’s NL Cy Young pick of Clayton Kershaw is looking pretty good right off the bat.