Billy Wagner has his first save for a Mets club that celebrated a 20th anniversary in style, and Derrick Turnbow celebrated his new contract with a save on one of the most exciting Opening Days in recent Milwaukee memory. Baltimore won one for Ellie, Colorado won the first extra-inning contest of the year, and these five top MVP candidates from 2005 all went significantly deep: MVPs Albert Pujols (twice) and Alex Rodriguez (grand slam), as well as Andruw Jones, David Ortiz and Vlad Guerrero.
Opening Day arrived with pomp and circumstance at a dozen Major League ballparks Monday, as it had the night before for the world champion White Sox against Cleveland, and the release of 6,000 balloons before the game in Denver served to symbolize the release of so much pent-up enthusiasm for 2006 that fans have had while waiting for another big year. Here is a look around Opening Day:
Yankees 15, A's 2
"You couldn't have asked for much more than that," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. While that could have applied to the entire day of Major League Baseball, he was talking about a remarkable debut by the Bronx Bombers. They tied the franchise record for most runs scored on the road on Opening Day.
Matsui declined to participate in the World Baseball Classic because he said he wanted to focus on the regular season. It may not have won him many brownie points back home in Japan, but what he did on Opening Day makes it harder to fault him. Matsui was 4-for-4 with a three-run homer and two walks.
Johnny Damon made a spectacular first impression in his first official game since being acquired from the rival Red Sox, going 3-for-7 with two doubles and two runs. "He was a pain in the (butt), but I'm glad to have him on my team now," said A-Rod, who was 3-for-5 and hit the big salami in that seven-run second inning. Not that Randy Johnson needed all of this offense; he allowed only one run over seven innings to start the season 1-0.
The only run off Big Unit was recorded by Frank Thomas, who homered in his first game on a team other than the White Sox. For the A's, it was the most runs ever allowed in an opener. It was a rough outing for Barry Zito, but some perspective is required when you see this note: Five Opening Day starting pitchers -- Zito, Schilling, Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia, Atlanta's Tim Hudson and San Diego's Jake Peavy -- will be helping the wounded men and women of the U.S. military this season as participants in the second year of Zito's Strikeouts for Troops program. It raised nearly $140,000 in 2005.
Cubs 16, Reds 7
The first Opening Day in Cincinnati was 1876, and 130 years later, George W. Bush became the first sitting president to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at that event. He tossed a strike to Reds catcher Jason LaRue, and yet another "traditional opener" was under way in the Queen City.
Before his first pitch, Bush entered the Cubs clubhouse and said, "How's everybody?" First up was manager Dusty Baker and Bush said, "This is the year, right?"
Who knows, maybe it will be the year. The Red Sox and White Sox just won it all, so why not the Cubs, who last won it all in 1908? They started the latest pursuit by scoring five runs in their first inning of the season. Nothing comes easy for Cubs fans, though. Cincinnati chased starter Carlos Zambrano in the fifth by tying it at 5-5. Then the Cubs made it clear that they love big innings in 2006 -- putting up seven in the sixth and then another four in the ninth.
One down, 161 to go. It wasn't the result Reds fans hoped to see, especially for those who had camped outside the park for several days to secure a place in line, but the pageantry was hard to beat -- as usual. Following Bush's first pitch, Cincinnati native and jazz artist Kathy Wade sang the national anthem highlighted by a flyover by UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. Former Reds pitcher and three-time All-Star Mario Soto served as Grand Marshal for the earlier 87th Findlay Market Opening Day Parade.
"I found out in short order that Opening Day in Cincinnati goes beyond just being day one of the baseball season," said new Reds GM Wayne Krivsky. "To be here today is a fairy tale for me."
Funniest Opening Day story: Baker had to hand over his pearl pocketknife to security when he arrived at Great American Ball Park. It's a Secret Service thing. "It's a pocketknife that you use for stuff," Baker explained. "Cutting apples, doing whatever, tighten a screw or cut some tape off a box, cutting string, anything."
Mets 3, Nationals 2
This is the 20th-anniversary season of the Mets' last world championship, and right away there was a tone of nostalgia as they hope to connect that past with the present. Jesse Orosco was on the mound again throwing to catcher Gary Carter in the ceremonial first pitch, at exactly the same place where it ended right for them in 1986.
"I think it's fantastic," Orosco said. "I was very excited about it. I told my wife, 'I'm not going to mess up a chance like that.' I couldn't."
The Mets did not mess up the chance to make a good impression on their full house of fans at Shea Stadium. Xavier Nady, making his Mets debut after coming over from San Diego, went 4-for-4. Billy Wagner, one of the major offseason acquisitions for a club expected by many to finally end the Braves' streak of 14 consecutive division titles, converted the save in his first attempt. He had a little help from Carlos Beltran, who gunned down Jose Vidro trying to stretch a single to a double for the last out.
And David Wright had the decisive blow with a solo homer in the sixth inning.
The Opening Day national anthem was performed by six members of the cast from the Broadway show, 'Ring of Fire,' a Johnny Cash tribute. U.S. soldiers from the Fort Hamilton Joint Service Color Guard and cadets from the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y., presented the official colors, followed by a stadium flyover from the 110th Fighter Wing of Willow Grove, Penn.
Cardinals 13, Phillies 5
Each fan who entered Citizens Bank Park received a red rally towel and a warm welcome by a Phillies representative. "Fans should be welcomed," said a Phillies gameday employee at the gate. "We want to make this as enjoyable as possible for them."
The only problem on an otherwise glorious Monday was the fact that the visitors are all about the red, and they did some big-time rallying in Day 1. Albert Pujols homered twice, Scott Rolen made a huge statement with a grand slam among three hits, and the Cardinals had a 10-run lead after the top of the fourth. There is no mercy rule here, unlike the World Baseball Classic, so the rest of the game was played and it wound up as a 13-5 victory for the team with baseball's best record each of the last two years.
There were other reasons you stayed around for the finish of a game like this when your team is down, 10-0. Most notably was Jimmy Rollins. The Phillies' shortstop doubled in his last at-bat to extend his hitting streak to 37 games, meaning he is now inside of 20 games in chasing Joe DiMaggio's immortal record of 56 consecutive games. Another reason to stay around was seeing Art Garfunkel perform "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch, and seeing the Phillie Phanatic dance with Miss America, Jennifer Barry, after the seventh inning.
It was just an incredible day at CBP, from a skydiving team delivering the first ball and the ball being thrown out by 16-year-old Kimmie Meissner, the University of Delaware student who skated in the last Olympics and just won the World Figure Skating Championship. The only problem was that the other team liked the red rally towels.
Orioles 9, Devil Rays 6
This one was for Ellie.
Baltimore honored Elrod Hendricks before the game at Camden Yards, saluting the enormously popular man who spent 37 seasons as a player and coach within the organization. Hendricks passed away in December, and the Orioles will play out the entire season with a 44 patch affixed to their sleeves. The O's arranged a video montage and observed a pre-game moment of silence in his honor, and the ceremonial first pitch was thrown out by Ian Hendricks, Elrod's son. That may have been the most memorable part of the day for many, along with a JumboTron image that showed Hendricks tagging out Detroit's Al Kaline at home plate.
The game left Orioles fans with more warm thoughts to take home. How many times will Baltimore homer four times in a game? It happened in the opener, when Miguel Tejada, Luis Matos, Melvin Mora and Jeff Conine all went yard. There were actually six combined homers because Jonny Gomez and Travis Lee each had one for Tampa Bay, which saw the Orioles spoil the debut of new Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon.
But make no mistake: This Opening Day was about a memory as much about making new memories. Sam Perlozzo, in his first Opening Day at the Orioles' helm, said of Hendricks: "I think about him all the time. He's always with us."
Red Sox 7, Rangers 3
Curt Schilling looks good. Next question? It probably has something to do with another notable right-hander, Roger Clemens, who was spending time around this opener with both clubs that are considered among his 2006 pursuers.
Clemens was at Ameriquest Field on this day for the primary reason of participating in the celebration of his alma mater, the University of Texas, winning the national championship in football. But he spent close to 45 minutes chatting in front of the Red Sox clubhouse with GM Theo Epstein, as well as with principal owner John W. Henry and chairman Tom Werner.
"I don't have any interest in playing right now, at all," Clemens said. "Again, like I said guys, I kind of get on Randy (Hendricks, his agent) all the time, he's making this more and more difficult to retire. That's his job, he just lays my options out there if it happens. Again, I'm probably going to kick back and watch. If somebody goes down, or something like that, and I really feel like I can help and get out there and contribute, I might decide to do it. But not at this point."
Clemens can re-sign with the Astros as early as May 1, he can retire, and there also is the courtship of the Rangers, Red Sox and Yankees. The press is most definitely on, the door most definitely open. But for now, there was a Red Sox-Rangers opener to play, and Schilling was the big man on the mound. He went seven strong innings, and the only hiccup was a two-run homer by Hank Blalock. David Ortiz hit a moonshot for a three-run homer to get on the board quickly.
Clemens, who also visited the Rangers' clubhouse, had been considered to throw out the first pitch at Texas. The honor went instead to Longhorns coach Mack Brown, who was accompanied by Darrell Royal, longtime Longhorn coaching legend. Said Brown: "The catcher voted for me. Roger was too strong." Asked what advice Clemens gave him on the first pitch, Brown said, "Throw high! That's all I've heard for three days so I better do just that."
Rockies 3, Diamondbacks 2
It was this time last year that Clint Barmes was one of the major Opening Day stories in the Majors, and this time he scored the tying run on a Todd Helton double in the eighth inning that would lead to extra innings. Brad Hawpe sent Rockies fans home happy on this first day, scoring Matt Holliday with a fielder's choice in the 11th.
In the pregame ceremony, the four Armed Forces branches were represented by 260 volunteers, along with members of the Denver Fire Department. Three jumbo American Flags were spread across the field. New pyrotechnics were shown on the scoreboard, and 6,000 balloons were released into the air. Four F-16s made a flyover.
The Denver Police Motorcycle Cops delivered the baseballs for first-pitch ceremonies to Jeff Potter from Frontier Airlines and Maurice Brown, a Colorado Rockies season ticket holder. Baseball was back in the Rockies again, and on this day they saw a nice pitching duel between Arizona's Brandon Webb and Jason Jennings, who each went seven innings and allowed only one earned run.
Tigers 3, Royals 1
Chris Shelton's two homers and Kenny Rogers' six solid innings helped make Leyland's return to managing a victorious one in this afternoon opener at Kauffman Stadium. Leyland was returning to the job, but getting a new look at life managing in an American League dugout.
Detroit's third consecutive Opening Day victory featured much of what makes this year's Tigers squad different from the one that opened last season. Rogers, the Tigers' oldest Opening Day pitcher at 41 years, scattered a run on three hits in six innings before giving way to 21-year-old Joel Zumaya in his Major League debut.
Royals honorary manager Buck O'Neil was his usual show-stopping self. He entered the field in a convertible and trooped along the foul line, hand-slapping the current players on his way to home plate. There he greeted Royals manager Buddy Bell and flashed a "Vote Yes" T-shirt, boosting Tuesday's sales tax for stadium renovations.
After a B-2 Stealth bomber buzzed overhead and the bald eagle Challenger winged its way to the mound, O'Neil joined Bell in presenting the lineup cards to the umpires. Just in case anyone missed it, he showed the "Vote Yes" shirt again and took off in the convertible to enjoy the game. Bell took his spot in the dugout and hoped to enjoy the game.
Earlier, Academy Award-winning actor Chris Cooper flipped a strike in the ceremonial first pitch and recording artist Sara Evans performed the national anthem.
Angels 5, Mariners 4
Pregame festivities at Safeco Field included the annual Ceremonial First Run Around the Bases, by 8-year-old Jeffery Baker of Bellevue, Wash., who is undergoing treatment for Hodgkin's Lymphoma. It's moments like that that make Opening Day special, and it's having a local hero like Super Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck throw out the first pitch with his Seahawks teammates in tow.
Can the Mariners do for Seattle what the local NFL team just did? It all began here, and despite a ninth-inning rally, the visitors spoiled this one. Vlad Guerrero homered on his first at-bat of the season, Orlando Cabrera provided the key hit with a two-run single in the top of the ninth, and Francisco Cabrera held on for the save.
Much of the attention in this opener centered on the Mariners' new catcher, Kenji Johjima, and Major League Baseball's first everyday catcher from Japan did not disappoint the home crowd. He hit a solo homer off reigning American League Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon in the fifth. There was one last homer on the day by Roberto Petagine, but that solo shot off Rodriguez in the ninth was not enough.
Padres 6, Giants 1
Heisman Trophy winner and projected top overall NFL Draft pick Reggie Bush threw out the ceremonial first pitch in his hometown. "I'm not nervous at all," the former Little Leaguer said before the assignment. "I'm thinking changeup, curveball . . . but I've got a fastball." After tipping his cap to a cheering crowd at Petco Park, he delivered a pitch to rookie second baseman Josh Barfield, and then a season was under way for the defending NL West champions.
After that, there were 96 pitches by Jake Peavy that drew a lot of applause as well. The Padres' starter allowed the Giants only one run over seven innings for the decision, and in the process he held Barry Bonds to one hit, a double. Peavy had surrendered Bond's 700th career homer, and this was the game where Bonds, now with 708 longballs, began pursuit of more home run history in 2006.
Mike Piazza has his own piece of home run history, and in his debut as a Padre he continued to pad his record for most homers by a catcher. That was a second-inning solo shot of Jason Schmidt that tied the score, and Khalil Greene added a two-run dinger off Schmidt in the sixth inning to help provide cushion.
Astros 1, Marlins 0
Things you don't see every day:
A pennant raised in Houston.
Six rookies starting in a lineup.
A wild pitch allowing the game's only run.
That's what happened on Opening Day at Minute Maid Park. It was a day that began with an emotional pregame ceremony honoring the defending National League champs -- including a two-minute ovation for Jeff Bagwell during introductions -- and ended with Roy Oswalt coming out on top in a great pitching duel with Dontrelle Willis.
Oswalt has won 20 games each of the last two seasons, and Willis led the Majors with 22 wins last year. Neither man allowed a run, the former going eight innings and the latter leaving after five (107 pitches). It was veteran reliever Joe Borowski who allowed the game-winner, throwing a bases-loaded pitch to Morgan Ensberg that went past catcher Miguel Olivo, allowing Craig Biggio to score the only run.
New Florida manager Joe Girardi started six rookies, marking the first time in modern baseball history (circa 1900) that it happened on Opening Day. They were: shortstop Hanley Ramirez, right fielder Jeremy Hermida, first baseman Mike Jacobs, second baseman Dan Uggla, left fielder Josh Willingham and center fielder Eric Reed.
"It's amazing," Girardi said of his squad being so young. "But that just means that they are young. It doesn't mean that they can't play."
The Astros, beginning their 45th season, recognized the seven clubs that have represented the Astros in the postseason: 1980, '86, '97, '98, '99, 2001, '04 and '05. To celebrate a year that ended with the club's first-ever World Series appearance, the Astros paid tribute to those who set the foundation for this club's recent success.
The 1980 club was represented by Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, '86 by Jose Cruz, '97 by Larry Dierker, '98 by Craig Biggio, '99 by Shane Reynolds, 2001 by Lance Berkman, '04 by Bagwell and '05 by Andy Pettitte. Ryan threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Pettitte, who will start Tuesday night against these rebuilding "mystery Marlins" in a game preceded by the distribution of the Astros' World Series rings.
Another day, another opener
The Twins and Blue Jays weren't part of the action on Monday, but they're worth mentioning here because the consolation is that they get the Opening Day spotlight all to themselves on Tuesday. Those clubs meet at 7:15 in Toronto, an outstanding showdown between Johan Santana of the Twins and Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays.
Tuesday also is the day that the White Sox finally receive their World Series rings, and in Houston there will be a ring ceremony before the game as well. There's nothing like the start of a Major League Baseball season. There's nothing like having baseball back.