Tuesday, April 03, 2007

MLB Opening Day: Notes, Quotes, Heroes & Zeroes

It's funny how Major League Baseball hypes opening day like it is the gateway to a seasonful of great plays, terrific games and memorable feats, a day to rejoice in the return of America's pastime and revel in the glory that is baseball.

Then the next day everyone gets the day off.

Well, not every team was off today. 18 teams are in action, including suckers like the Mets and Cards, who actually had to start the season a day early to accommodate those egotistical goons at ESPN; they both had their off day yesterday, on opening day when everyone else played, except the Giants and Padres, who open their seasons today.

What did I just write? WTF ever happened to just plain old opening day, when there were no huge TV contracts and every friggin' team played on the same day, hence the phrase "opening day"? Is that so hard?

Anyway, since today was the anti-opening day I decided to take a sojourn to Clearwater beach in order to get my head straight after a few long weeks dealing with kid-related issues such as field trips, spring break, broken bones, doctor visits, asthma attacks, birthday parties and sleepovers. Throw in a wedding and another Gator championship and I think I was literally coming down with a case of actual March madness.

Nothing like a bike ride in paradise to clear one's head. Now I am lucent enough to go through my notes from Opening day 2007 and go over some of the things I though were worth mentioning.


-Take the D-Rays loss to the Stankees, multiply it by 100 and you've got Tampa Bay's season
Let's get one thing straight: everybody knows Tampa Bay has assembled one of the greatest collection of young position players ever, but for all that potential pop and speed in the lineup they Rays still have one of the worst collection of arms this side of Sweden.

The entirety of the Rays season was on display yesterday in the 9-5 loss in the Bronx: they got a lead, 5-3 after a 4-run fifth, and got another shaky-but-decent start from ace Scott Kazmir (5IP, 6H, 5ER, 4BB, 5K). There was also speed on the base paths (Upton, Crawford & Baldelli all had steals) and pop at the plate (rookie Elijah Dukes slugged a homer for his first ML hit and 7 Rays had hits.)

But when Kazmir gave way to the wasteland known as the Rays pen, all hope for a big opening win in the Bronx was lost. Four relievers combined to allow 5 runs and turned a potential D-rays win into a surefire loss. By the time E-Rod homered off Juan Gone Salas in the eigth, the blueprint for another Tampa Bay season had been mapped out for all the world to see.

-The White Sox, my pick to win the AL Central, got their asses handed to them, losing 12-5 at home to Cleveland, which is the chic pick to win the division (what else is new?) Jose Contreras, who went from can't lose (9-0 start) to can't win (4-9 finish) in 2006, got shellacked for 8 runs and 7 hits in an inning+ of work as Cleveland's 13-hit attack was paced by old friend Trot Nixon, who had 3 hits and 3 runs scored in his first appearance in a uniform that doesn't say Boston on it. His veteran leadership, work ethic and playoff experience is really going to be a plus for those young Indian hitters like Sizemore, Hafner, Blake and Martinez.

Countdown to Ozzie's first meltdown? Two more losses.

-There's a new phenom pitcher on the West Coast, and his name is Felix Hernandez. Joining the likes of Randy Johnson, Francisco Rodriguez, Barry Zito and Rich Harden, the 20-year old Mariner became the youngest starter to win on opening day since Doc Gooden in 1985 with a dominating 3-hit, 12-strikeout performance in a 4-0 win over Oakland. Hernandez has a career record of 16-18 with Seattle but after losing 20 lbs in the offseason and a slew of starters in recent years (Gil Meche, Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia, Joel Pineiro) Hernandez was tabbed to start opening day, and to say he took advantage of the opportunity is an understatement.

-Another start, another win for Johan CyTana and the Twins. The 2-time Cy winner was not sharp in the season opener for the defending AL Central champs, but luckily he has the league MVP to back him up. Despite allowing 4 runs and 7 hits in 6 innings, Justin Morneau hit a home run and had 3 hits and 2 RBIs to help Santana get the win over Baltimore, 7-4. The Twinks roughed up B'More ace Eric Bedard (4.2, 10H, 6R) and knocked out 12 hits, including back-to-back jacks by Morneau and Torii Hunter in the 2nd. Think Hunter is still trying to forget that gaffe against Oakland in the ALDS?

-The new Big Red machine halted the Cubbies march to the pennant as country strong Adam Dunn belted two homers and Aaron Harang shut down the multi-million dollar Cubs lineup. Harang out dueled Chicago Cy Young contender Carlos Zambrano and made the shiny new Cubbie offense look old and weak; he allowed only 6 hits, all singles, and 1 run in 7 innings while striking out 5, including new LF and Nomah trade includee Matt Murton 3 times.
-The Brewers, this years trendy NL pick-to-click, got a complete game 2-hitter from big Ben Sheets and shut down the Dodgers 7-1. the former strikeout pitcher only had three Ks, but used a variety of pitches to baffle the Dodgers while his teammates were busy pounding Derek Lowe for 6 runs and 8 hits in 4 innings. The new look Brewer lineup produced 10 hits and as long as they're hitting and Sheets is pitching like that things could be looking up for the Brew crew.

-Speaking of strong, I mentioned Tampa Bay's Elijah Dukes homered for his first major league hit; the fact that it came in Yankee Stadium on opening day made it all the more sweeter. As I said in an earlier post, this dude is large, and as long as he's doing things like pounding the ball out to straightaway center in the Bronx in his second ML AB, he is going to be in the Rookie of the Year mix, along with teammate Delmon Young, who had a hit and an RBI in his 2007 debut.


HERO: Felix Hernandez, P SEA a 3-hitter with 12 Ks when you're only 20 years old earns you top spot on this list

ZERO: Curt Schiling, P BOS the againg ace was supposed to get the 2007 championship campaign off on a high note; instead he couldn't make it to the 5th inning, and when the pen imploded, so did Boston's chances of going 162-0

HERO: ARod, 3B NYY the man the Bronx "fans" love to hate quieted early boo birds by driving in 2 runs on an 8th inning homer and rapping 2 hits in his first game since admitting that he and infield teammate Derek Jeter are no longer BFFs, but....

ZERO: ERod, 3B NYY... the catcalls came raining down early on ol;d blue lips when he woefully misplayed a foul pop in the first inning for an error, then struck out swinging in his subsequent at bat

HERO(es): Royals batters 12 hits including 3 doubles, 2 triples and a homerun against the Sox was bad enough, but when guys like Mark Grudzalaniek, Tonu Pena Jr and Jack don't call me Joe Buck are doing the damage, well hats off to the new-look Royals; if they were in the AL East they would finish above Boston they way they are manhandling them these past few years

ZERO: Derek Lowe, P LAD here's the opening day linescore for the former Boston playoff hero/ notorious cad: 4IP, 8H, 6ER, 5BB, 4K, loss of respect from entire team

HERO: Carl Pavano, P NYY the guy hasn't pitched in nearly 2 seasons, sparred with teammates and media all spring long, had lost all respect in the clubhouse and had become a pariah with the fans due to injury proclivity and huge contract. So what does he do? Goes out and throws 4.1 of 5 hit ball allowing 4 runs and giving his team a chance to win the game, which they did. Granted he faced the D-Rays, but still he did more than I though he would

ZEROES: Relievers and I don't mean throwing zeroes; from Hideki Okijima's homerun offering on his first meaningful American pitch to Brad Lidge allowing yet another crushing, 9th inning homer run, these men of mediocrity did not get the job done. All the Rays relievers sucked, Detroit flamethrower Fernando Rodney blew the Tigers game in the 10th and Philly closer-in-training Ryan Madson allowed the game-losing homerun to of all people Edgar Rentanerror in Philly's loss to the Braves, and you've got some god-awful relief work being done on major league mounds.
HERO: Trot Nixon, DH/RF CLE as hard as it is to see old Trotter in another uniform, it was great to see him get three hits and three ribbies on opening day. There is no question in my mind he becomes another in a long line of Sox Killers as soon as he starts facing Boston.


"It was just the achievement. Just the bad things, the good things, all in there together. It was kind of like, 'Okay, you overcame.' " Dukes on where he came from and where he is now

"No fastball command. I did not adjust. I can't remember that ever being the case. It's very disappointing. As a starting pitcher, you can make your team look a lot worse than it is some days." Schilling, echoing the sentiments of every member of RSN

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