Mon 1 Apr 2013
Opening Day brings enthusiasm for every baseball fan. That includes the Astros, who actually posted an 8-2 win over their new division rival Texas last night. Even if I don’t consider the ESPN Sunday Night game the true start of the season, Houston is 1-0 and Texas is 0-1. Meaning the Astros were first in the AL West. April Fool’s Day indeed. Everyone wants to believe that a new year can bring hope. April baseball normally doesn’t matter. But it’s always nice to get off on the right foot.
The Mets did it by erupting for 11 runs on the Padres in an 11-2 win at Citi Field. The Yankees didn’t, getting trounced 8-2 by the Red Sox in the Bronx. It’s still funny to see both New York teams open at home at the same time. If you stayed home and channel flipped, it was the best of both worlds. But at the same time, annoying. Even as a passionate Yankee fan, I like to watch the Mets occasionally. They have an interesting ball club that features a nice rotation including flame thrower Matt Harvey, Opening Day winner Jon Niese and Dillon Gee. Eventually, we’ll see Zach Wheeler, who starts in Triple-A Las Vegas along with catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud. It should be fun to follow them.
For the Yanks, it was weird seeing no Derek Jeter. He’s back in Tampa rehabbing. Meanwhile, injured stars Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira all were in the dugout. Most of the attention centered around Mariano Rivera. The legendary all-time saves leader received a rousing ovation during player introductions in what will be his final season. It’s hard to believe this is really it for Mo. Once, he was the bridge to John Wetteland in ’96. Then, he took over the closer job and became the greatest modern day reliever. When we do see him out there, the support will be overwhelming. It is indeed special to root for Rivera, who still dons the familiar #42 commemorating the memory of Jackie Robinson. The Robinson family loves that he’ll be the last player to ever wear 42. In a year where the movie Jackie Robinson is out, it seems fitting.
As for the baseball, the Yanks fell behind early against Boston. The Red Sox used a four-run second off losing ace C.C. Sabathia. Ironically, it was the plate discipline of newcomer Jackie Bradley, Jr. that led to CC’s demise. He dug out of an 0-2 hole to work a walk that loaded the bases with one out. Bradley’s speed allowed Jason Inglesias to get an RBI infield hit for the game’s first run. Ex-Phillie Shane Victorino followed with a two-run single and Dustin Pedroia added an RBI single for a 4-0 lead.
The Yanks’ only offense came from catcher Francisco Cervelli. The former Staten Island Yankee delivered a clutch two out single that plated new Yankees Kevin Youkilis and Vernon Wells. But the story of the day was runners left on base. The Yankee Pinstripes stranded 21. That included a frustrating seventh. Trailing 5-2, they had first and second with no one out for the middle of the order. But Eduardo Nunez took a called third strike, Robby Cano struck out swinging and Youkilis also K’d to end the threat. The Sox put the game away by taking advantage of a Cano miscue to score two of their three runs in the ninth off Joba Chamberlain. Astonishingly, Jacoby Ellsbury was credited for a two-run single even though Cano botched the play. Victorino added his third RBI.
Jon Lester went five for his first win. He wasn’t great but worked in and out of trouble, allowing two earned on five hits with two walks and seven strikeouts. Sabathia also lasted five, giving up all four in the second while walking four and fanning five. He threw 102 pitches and admitted afterwards that he couldn’t put away hitters. But his elbow felt fine. Obviously, the Yanks need better from CC and the pitching staff until they get healthy. Cano must come through. His failure today was a sinking reminder of last October. He did have a hit but needs to deliver. Youkilis looked odd without his trademark mustache and goatee. He doubled in four at bats and made a nice play in the field to cut down a run at the plate. He played first instead of third with light hitting Jayson Nix getting the start at the hot corner.
For the Mets, it was a happy recap. Especially for Niese, who along with pitching into the seventh, was perfect at the plate. The southpaw is now the ace by default after the crushing news to Johan Santana which probably ended his Met career. A shame. Niese acted the part going six and two thirds while permitting two runs on four hits. He walked two and K’d four. He got the job done including with the bat, finishing the day 2-for-2 with an RBI single. Indeed, Niese is batting 1,000. A pretty cool thing for the Amazin’s.
There were plenty of bright spots. Nine of the Mets 11 runs came with two outs. On a day where David Wright knocked in only one and Ike Davis took the collar in five at bats with the golden sombrero (4 K’s), they got contributions throughout. Ruben Tejada busted out of his Spring malaise with a big two out run scoring single. He had two hits and two runs scored. Six different Mets had multi-hit games including newcomers Collin Cowgill (grand slam), Marlon Byrd (2-5, 2 RBI’s) and John Buck (2-4, 2 R, RBI). Second baseman Daniel Murphy also went 2-for-5 with a two out RBI. He batted second behind Cowgill, who GM Sandy Alderson brought in from Oakland.
The Met outfield today was Lucas Duda in left, Cowgill in center and Byrd in right. It’ll be a question mark all season. Kirk Nieuwenheis is on the bench and spark plug Jordany Valdespin can fill in in left and at second. Valdespin had a big Spring to make the team. He can handle the bat and has speed but must be more consistent to play under Terry Collins. Collins will likely shift guys in and out based on match-ups and who’s hot. At least they boast a strong infield with All-Star Wright and Davis carrying the lumber at the corners.
The Mets didn’t sell out their home opener. Part of it’s due to uncertainty from a skeptical fan base that wants to see a winner. Newsflash. It takes time. Patience is the key. At the very least, they have some building blocks for the future. Pitching should be a strength. Harvey goes in Game Two Wednesday with Gee to follow. That’s a solid front three with Jeremy Hefner the No.4 by default. Shaun Marcum is already on the DL, leaving them a little thin. How soon will we see Wheeler? For the time being, the Mets get off to an ideal start on a day Wright was named captain.
A couple of quick Opening Day Notes:
-Bryce Harper hit a homer in his first two at bats in the Nats’ 2-0 shutout of the Marlins. Harper is in line for a big year. Thirty homers and 100 RBI’s should be within reach on a team that’s the NL favorite. We’ll see if they can live up to the hype.
-Clayton Kershaw broke a scoreless game between the Dodgers and Giants by going yard off George Kontos. The Dodger ace led off the eighth by clubbing his first career home run that just cleared the center field fence. Kershaw dueled with Giants ace Matt Cain, who tossed six scoreless (8 K’s). Kershaw is still in the game having permitted just three hits while fanning seven. He’ll get a chance to complete it.
-A two-run homer from Anthony Rizzo lifted the Cubs past the Pirates 3-1. Jeff Samardzija (8 IP 0 R 9 K’s) out-dueled A.J. Burnett (5.2 IP 3 ER 10 K’s) for his first win. Hard to believe he’s their Opening Day starter.
-Justin Verlander K’d seven over five after signing a record seven-year $180 million extension with Detroit. The Tigers lead the Twins 3-0. Verlander is arguably the best pitcher. But long-term deals for starters are too risky. Most pitchers don’t last. Look at what happened to the Mets with Santana and Pedro Martinez. Remember that awful contract the Dodgers gave out to Kevin Brown? I’m not a fan of it. So, how much do you think Kershaw will get?
-Speaking of absurd, the Giants signed NL MVP Buster Posey for nine years, $167 million. He’s a catcher. There’s no way he’ll live up to it. He’s already a hero in the Bay area. Eventually, Posey will shift to first.
-UPDATE: The Dodgers tacked on three more to take a 4-0 lead. Kontos is charged with all four runs.
-UPDATE II: It’s a final. The Dodgers shutout the Giants 4-0. Kershaw goes the distance. He was spectacular, needing only 85 pitches (57 strikes) to blank San Francisco. Final line: 9 IP 4 H 0 BB 7 K
Two other quick hits:
-It’s always a joy to hear Vin Scully call a game. He is the best ever. And he still does it solo, using those adjectives to describe the national past time.
-Kevin Burkhardt is still working the field for SNY. Hard to believe no one’s hired him for a better gig. But he still got to interview Emmy Rossum between innings. Never a bad thing as Keith Hernandez noted during the Mets telecast. Hernandez was mustache free. Another oddity.