What a strange start to the baseball season.
It sure didn’t look like baseball weather at noon central time, when the Yankees and Tigers kicked off the season. The weather was cold and dreary. C.C. Sabathia threw the first pitch in front of hundred (thousands?) of empty seats at Yankee Stadium. The fans who cheered on the home team stayed bundled up on this windy, damp afternoon.
Neither Sabathia nor Tigers ace, Justin Verlander, pitched up to their standards. Mark Teixiera jumped on a Verlander pitch in the third inning to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead. Though the Tigers tied it up in the middle innings, I never got the sense they had a chance. The Yankees should win their home opener. Somehow, they’d find a way to pull away. Sure enough they did. Curtis Granderson hit a late homer to give the Yankees the lead. He made a couple highlight reel catches in center to preserve it. Mariano Rivera came on in the ninth and did his thing. He mowed down the Tigers: one-two-three.
The game was lifeless throughout. The excitement and energy one expects on Opening Day was completely absent. I blame the weather.
Then ESPN moved to St. Louis, where the hometown Cardinals squared off against the San Diego Padres. Busch Stadium was full at the first pitch. The game started out beneath blue skies and bright sunshine. This was baseball weather. Three hours into the season, it finally felt like the game had a pulse.
This National League game was back and forth. Both starters pitched well: Chris Carpenter went 7 solid innings while Tim Stauffer threw 6 innings for the Padres. Each gave up 2 runs. But the fun began when the starters hit the showers.
Matt Holiday hit an eighth inning solo home run to give the Red Birds a one run lead going into the ninth. Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin came in to seal the deal. He retired the first two men. Then Cameron Maybin ruined the hometown team’s afternoon. He took the first pitch 405 feet out to dead center and sent the game to extra innings.
In the 11th, Maybin stepped up once again. With a runner at first, the Cardinals set up their middle infielders in double play position. Maybin hit a slow roller through the right side of the infield and through to right field. Base-runner Chase Hundley hustled from first to third. Shortstop Ryan Theriot couldn’t handle the incoming throw. Hundley made a heads-up decision and raced home. Theriot’s throw was late and the Padres had their first lead of the afternoon.
The visiting squad added an insurance run and won 5-3.
This exciting extra-inning affair is just what one needs on opening day. But it was nothing compared to the drama taking place in Cincinnati. There the visiting Brewers took a 2 run lead into the bottom of the ninth and looked to spoil the home opener of the defending Central Division champs. But they couldn’t take care of business. Ramon Hernandez thrilled the hometown fans when he took a 0-1 outside fastball and hit it into the right field bleachers. The 3 run walk off homer gave the Reds a 7-6 win.
That’s what we expect on Opening Day. We got to see a walk-off thriller. We saw an extra-inning nail-biter.
Then we saw heaven on earth.
At six o clock, ESPN sent viewers out to Chavez Ravine.
Dodgers Stadium is a sight to behold, anytime. But there’s something special about Opening Day. Seeing the sunshine and the blue skies above the San Gabriel Mountains always sends a thrill up my spine.
Watching the Giants and Dodgers duel is always a treat. Better get back to it.