Let history record that the first run batted in of the 2016 season was delivered by a pitcher. At the plate. A pitcher who’d had only three runs batted in in his entire career (nine seasons) prior to last year, when he drove in seven. And his name wasn’t Madison Bumgarner.
Let history record further that Clayton Kershaw was the beneficiary of the worst Opening Day blowout in major leaguer history a day later. And, that Bryce Harper rocked the best postgame cap around the circuits. So far.
The RBI pitcher was Francisco Liriano. Sunday afternoon, bottom of the second, PNC Park. Gregory Polanco aboard with a leadoff double and on third after a followup force play, Jordy Mercer on first with a walk. Liriano swung on Adam Wainwright’s first service to him and drilled it past second into right to send Polanco home with the first of four Pirate runs.
The Pirates beat the Cardinals, 4-1. The Cardinals’ wounding 2015 flaw, a shaky enough offense in spite of which they won 100 games behind solid pitching, reared again. They could push but not shove and were probably lucky to pry a ninth inning run out of Pirates closer Mark Melancon.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays opened their season with two straight over the Rays, R.A. Dickey being bailed out of a slightly shaky outing when his left fielder Michael Saunders chased down what started as an Evan Longoria three-run bomb and turned into an out atop the wall at the track. They keep this up and the Jays’ reputation for sluggy starts may retire to the history books. For now.
The Royals weren’t comfortable with the Mets being their houseguests when they hoisted their World Series banner and celebrated their triumph over those Mets once more before starting the season in earnest. The schedulemakers pitting the two against each other to open did so without even knowing whether the Royals or the Mets would get that far last October.
So what did Opening Night hold for them? Matt Harvey looking a little shaky after fighting off a bladder infection, Yoenis Cespedes asleep at the switch on a routine fly, the Royals doing some of their usual, and the Mets having not quite enough—but just enough to put a little shake into Kauffmann Stadium, when they hung three on the Royals’ usually impeccable pen—to overcome the Royals. 4-3 your final.
Cheer up, Mets. You could have been the Padres Monday afternoon. Bad enough: Dealing with Kershaw on Opening Day. Worse: Seventeen Dodger hits to the Padres’ four, including but not limited to:
* Back-to-back first inning doubles to open the carnage.
* Not one ball flying over the wall.
* Adrian Gonzalez and A.J. Ellis driving in three each.
* Yasiel Puig with nobody out banging an RBI triple before coming home on a throwing error, in the four-run eighth that followed the three-run seventh which followed the five-run sixth.
* RBIs by seven different Dodger hitters.
* Kershaw striking out nine in seven terrific innings and allowing nothing but a walk and a single and no Padre to even think about getting past first.
Incidentally, to find the previous worst Opening Day blowout, you have to repair to 1911, when the Pirates smothered the Reds 14-0.
Speaking of first, Bryce Harper—donning a “Make Baseball Fun Again” cap after the game—made his first hit of the year count big against the Braves. He lined up Julio Teheran after three straight 2-2 fouls—and Anthony Rendon getting picked off first—and hit one over the right field fence to open the scoring.
It took the Nationals ten innings to beat the Braves, 4-3, abetted slightly by the first known application of the so-called Utley Rule on slides at second: Nick Markakis slid wide of the pad, upending Daniel Murphy, the Nats’ new second baseman—he who went extraterrestrial in six straight postseason games who led off the Washington fourth with a hefty blast over the center field fence and drove in what proved the winner in the tenth with a double. The slide got Hector Olivera rung up at first for the double play under the rule.
Oh, yes, Jonathan Papelbon pitched a three-up, three-down tenth to save it. And nobody wanted to choke anyone.
New managers Dusty Baker (Nationals) and Dave Roberts (Dodgers) were given game balls after their inaugural wins. “I knew one guy’s going to get their first one today. I’m just glad it was our guy,” said Kershaw after that game. It’s got to be special for him to get his first one out of the way, and now it’s just kind of baseball.”
Baker was just as pleased even with the extra inning win. “It’s kind of like the game telling me, welcome back,” he said with a smile.
The Giants gave Bumgarner a reason to smile despite him feeling “under the weather” as they opened on the road in Milwaukee. They made sure his gutsy effort in the circumstance—three earned runs surrendered, five hits, five walks, but a four-run lead when he came out after the fifth—didn’t go to waste.
They damn near equaled the Dodgers’ destruction of the Padres, winning 12-3, especially with Denard Span smacking a three-run homer in the eighth and driving in five on the day of his Giant premiere. Not to mention Span, Joe Panik, and Buster Posey going back-to-back-to-back over the fences in that inning.
Both Bumgarner and Posey were trying to shake off viruses that bugged them over the weekend. But they weren’t the contagious ones. The Giants’ bats were. Especially in the eighth. “I’d say,” said Matt Duffy, who drove in four himself including with a home run, “contagious is a good word right there.”
That’s one way to make baseball fun again. Season on!