Wow! Is there any better way to kick off a season than with 12 exciting, competitive games? I don’t think so. From Bryce Harper’s pair of homers, to Kershaw putting the Dodgers on his back, Opening Day was full of big performances as well. These are my starting nine from Opening Day 2013:
1) Josh Reddick’s beard
It’s majestic. I mean just look at the thing. Can his eyes even make their way through that hairy forest to see the pitches opposing hurlers throw? Is he going for the Johnny Damon circa-2004 look? I’m not really sure but I know I like it.
2) Clayton Kershaw as a dual threat
In the best game of the day the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw dualed the Giants’ Matt Cain to a draw through 8 innings. Neither offense could muster much more than a bloop single or two as the starters combined to strikeout 15 batters. By the start of the 8th inning the game was handed over to the Giants’ bullpen and George Kontos with Clayton Kershaw scheduled to lead-off. In a bold move Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly decided to leave Kershaw in the game, eschewing a pinch hitter, and boy did it pay off. Kershaw hit an absolute blast to centerfield some 400-odd feet away for his 1st career homer, sending Dodgers’ fans into a frenzy. Los Angeles added 3 more insurance runs in the inning but Clayton Kershaw didn’t need them as he pitched a perfect 9th to grab the 4-0 victory.
3) Bryce Harper on the inside corner
Harper took a breaking ball and a fastball in the exact same location out of the park to left field and he made it look absolutely effortless as his 2 dingers led the Nats to a 2-0 win. Baseball isn’t supposed to be this easy for anybody and the fact that Harper is making it look this easy at 20 year of age is ridiculous. Don’t throw him pitches down and in the zone because Harper will be knocking those out of the park this season.
4) King Felix’s change-up
King Felix had his change-up working from the get-go and he was relentless with it, shutting out the defending AL West champion A’s. Hernandez pitched 7.2 innings, striking out 8 while only allowing 4 base runners in a dominating performance. The King sat down the first 10 A’s he faced and the dominant pitch in his arsenal was his change-up. Hernandez went to it time and time again to put away Oakland’s hitters, throwing his change about half the time for good reason, it was just, plain unhittable.
5) The new, efficient Stephen Strasburg
Nobody made it look easier on the mound on Opening Day than the Nationals’ ace. Strasburg threw 80 pitches in 7 innings and was suffocating on the mound, allowing just 3 hits to the Marlins’ admittedly weak lineup. Strasburg got right down to work, putting his overpowering fastball to good use over and over again to induce weak ground out after weak ground out, rather than tip-toeing around the edges looking for strikeouts. The result was an efficiently dominant performance which is always a good thing for a team that wants to play into late October.
6) The Jackie Bradley Jr. call-up
One of the toughest things for a Major League player to learn is how to have an effect on the game when you don’t hit the ball. Whether it be through a big defensive catch or some patient at-bats at the plate, the best players always find a way to help their team win. Well in his very first MLB game, against the rival Yankees, Jackie Bradley Jr. was able to make a big catch in left field and he walked 3 times, one of which was with the bases loaded, and scored 2 runs. That’s the sign of a good player and that’s what Bradley Jr. looks to be.
7) Chase Utley looking healthy
Well we should have listened. Utley said this was the best his lower half has felt in the past couple of seasons and it was apparent in the opener against the Braves. Utley was 3-5 with a triple and a long home run and he looked every part the All-Star he was in 3 or 4 years ago.
8) The Diamondbacks’ new outfield
No outfield trio had a better debut last night than the group in Arizona. Gerardo Parra, A.J. Pollock, and Jason Kubel terrorized the Cardinals’ staff, going 9-13 with 3 RBI and 5 doubles. Parra in particular, should be giving Adam Wainwright nightmares. He was all over the bases with 3 doubles and he even attempted to steal off the mighty Yadier Molina, only to be gunned down easily. But the threat of speed was still there and coupled with his great defense, Parra could turn out to be a nice find for the D-Backs. Arizona was betting that they could sufficiently replace Justin Upton with a group effort and the early returns, even without Adam Eaton and Cody Ross, are impressive.
9) Sandy Koufax throwing out the first pitch
Anytime you can get one of the all-time greats on the mound on Opening Day you have to do it, so of course Koufax had to relieve Magic for the first pitch.