15 Best Opening Day Performances in MLB History

Ben Shapiro@benshapironyc1 Analyst IIIApril 2, 2012

15 Best Opening Day Performances in MLB History

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    For baseball fans, Opening Day is a holiday. 

    It's the start of another baseball season. Baseball has a long season with tons of games, but as anyone who followed the sport last season knows, they all count. 

    It's the ultimate sports "marathon versus a sprint" comparison. For almost a full six months, the teams play almost every day. A team can lose 60 games in a single season and still be considered exceptional. The New England Patriots have lost only 42 regular-season games since the start of the 2001 season.  

    Some teams have "Opening Day" on the first day of the season. Others have "Opening Day" on the day of their first home game. Regardless of exactly when a team's Opening Day happens, it's always fun. 

    Every baseball team's players and fans start the season with the possibility of making the playoffs. There's always hope on Opening Day. It doesn't always last that long, and in the end only one team's fans and players will ultimately end the season happy with how it concludes. On Opening Day every team has hopes that the team smiling at the end will be them.

    With its lengthy and rich history, baseball has had it's fair share of special Opening Day moments. Here are some of the best. 

15. New York Mets: April 1, 1996

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    In spite of being the road team, the St. Louis Cardinals probably felt pretty good leading the Mets 6-0 in the fourth inning on Opening Day, 1996. 

    The Mets didn't allow the Cardinals to feel good about the final result of the game. 

    New York scored two runs in the fourth, added one in the sixth and then put the game away with a four-run seventh inning. Both Bernard Gilkey and Todd Hundley contributed solo home runs.  

    It was memorable opening day for Mets fans and a forgettable one for fans of the Cardinals. 

14. Vinnie Castilla: March 31, 1998

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    New ballpark, new franchise. That's a recipe for optimism, but in 1998 the best reason to smile was provided by Vinnie Castilla, and unfortunately for Diamondbacks fans, he played for the Colorado Rockies. 

    Yes, it was the first day in the history of the Arizona Diamondbacks and their brand new stadium, Bank One Ballpark.

    The day ended up belonging to Vinnie Castilla, however. Castilla went 3-for-5 with two home runs and five RBI, leading his Rockies to a 9-2 win. It was a memorable day for Diamondbacks fans, but for a lot of the wrong reasons. 

13. Mark McGwire: March 31, 1998

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    When Mark McGwire went deep off of Ramon Martinez on Opening Day, 1998 fans couldn't have known what was in store. 

    That home run was the first of four consecutive games with round-trippers, and of course, by season's end he had amassed 70 home runs. 

    While his accomplishments have been tainted by the performance-enhancing drug scandals and his subsequent admittance of use, when McGwire started the season in that manner, plenty of people took notice. 

12. Jason Heyward: April 5, 2010

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    The build-up to the 2010 season was similar to many other modern seasons. There's always plenty of rookie hype. 

    In 2010, it was focused squarely on Jason Heyward, a big-time prospect from the Atlanta Braves organization. 

    In his first major league at-bat, facing Carlos Zambrano, he launched a three-run home run that travelled 447 feet. It was a great entry, and it was part of a 2-for-5 day with four RBI and four runs scored. 

11. Kansas City Royals: April 5, 2004

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    The 2004 Kansas City Royals finished their season with a putrid 58-104 record. 

    It's probably reasonable to suggest that the highlight of the season took place on Opening Day, and then it was all downhill from there. 

    Even Opening Day didn't look too good for most of that first game. 

    When the ninth inning started, the Royals were down 7-3. But the Royals exploded for six runs in the bottom of the ninth, providing the home fans with a thrilling end to the season's first game. It was a one-out, two-run home run by Carlos Beltran that broke a 7-7 tie and sent the stadium into a frenzy. 

    The Royals started 4-2, but followed it up with stretch in which they went 4-18. It was a miserable season, but it sure started off on a positive note. 

10. Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes: April 4 1994

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    Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes didn't have a great baseball career. The Chicago Cubs didn't have a great 1994 season, and they didn't even win their opener. They lost the first game of the 1994 season by a score of 12-8 to the visiting New York Mets. 

    Karl Rhodes, a player who spent five years in the majors and hit a grand total of 13 home runs in his career, just happened to mash three of them on Opening Day, 1994. 

    Did I mention they came off of Dwight Gooden? That's right—Rhodes, a player never known for his offense went 4-for-4 that day, along with three home runs and three runs batted in against a pitcher who at one point was the dominant pitcher in the National League. 

    It's a statement about how one game is not an indication of one's career, or in Rhodes case, it's a statement about how one game is almost the sum of one's career. 

9. Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins: April 6, 1971

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    A classic pitching duel was usurped in magnitude with just one swing. 

    The day started with the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals—two of baseball's oldest rival—set to square off. Each franchise was sending its number-one starter to the mound. The Cubs had Ferguson Jenkins, and the Cardinals were countering with Bob Gibson. 

    The matchup was as good as advertised, with the game heading to extra innings tied at 1-1 and both starters still on the mound. Jenkins got the through the top of the 10th, but in the bottom of the inning, with one out, Billy Williams crushed a walk-off home run against the great Bob Gibson, ending the game and making it an Opening Day classic. 

    Jenkins' line on the day was 10 innings pitched, three hits, one earned run, no walks and seven strikeouts. 

8. Mo Vaughn: April 10, 1998

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    The 1998 Boston Red Sox had to start the season on an eight-game road trip. They went 3-5, and that brought them home for the home opener on April 10, 1998. 

    After falling behind 7-2 heading to the bottom of the ninth inning, the Red Sox rallied for three runs and then loaded the bases for their cleanup hitter, Mo Vaughn

    Vaughn sent a Paul Spoljaric pitch deep into the right-center field stands for a walk-off grand slam.

    The 1998 season wasn't that great a season for the Red Sox, but the home opener was one that would be etched in the minds of Sox fans for years to come.   

7. Babe Ruth: April 18, 1923

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    It's not called " The House That Ruth Built" for nothing. 

    After his star power helped provide the impetus for building Yankee Stadium, Ruth himself ushered in the new era by crushing a three-run home run to power the Yankees to an opening day 4-1 victory over his former team, the Boston Red Sox.

    A new stadium, an Opening Day victory over your rival, and all of it powered by arguably the greatest baseball player of all time—not a bad way to start off a season.  

6. Jorge Bell: April 4, 1988

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    In 1987, Jorge Bell was the American League MVP. 

    In 1988, he had one of the greatest individual Opening Day performances in baseball history.

    Facing Kansas City Royals ace Bret Saberhagen, Bell absolutely exploded for three home runs. He finished the day 3-for-4 with four RBI.

    Bell's 1988 season wasn't as good as his 1987 MVP campaign, but it started off with all the markings of another MVP season.  

5. Walter Johnson: April 23, 1919

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    As far as pitchers go, it's hard to get much better than Walter Johnson. Johnson started 14 Opening Day games for the Washington Senators, and in 1919, he had what has to be considered one of the all-time greatest Opening Day pitching performances of all time. 

    Squaring off against the Philadelphia Athletics, Johnson went 13 innings, allowing 10 hits and walking three while striking out six. He won the extra-innings marathon, 1-0. A 13-inning Opening Day shutout. That's something almost guaranteed to not happen again with modern pitch count limits in place. 

    Johnson went on to finish the 1919 season with a 20-14 record and an earned run average of 1.49. Not bad. 

4. Bob Feller: April 16, 1940

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    No one has ever thrown a no-hitter on Opening Day. 

    No one except for Bob Feller. The Hall of Fame Cleveland Indians pitcher threw three no-hitters over the course of his career. On April 16, 1940 in Comiskey Park in Chicago, Feller threw a gem. 

    Nine innings, no hits, five walks and eight strikeouts. This was no cakewalk either. The Indians scored one run in the fourth inning, and Feller had to go the rest of the way nursing the one-run lead for a 1-0 victory.

3. Hank Aaron: April 4, 1974

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    On April 4, 1974, Hank Aaron strolled to the plate, and on the first swing of his 21st season, he smacked his record-tying 714th career home run off of Reds pitcher Jack Billingham. 

    Aaron would of course go on to hit number 715 four nights later on April 8th. Aaron's career spanned 23 seasons, and he would finish his amazing career as the all-time leader in both home runs and runs batted in. 

    It's hard to pick a greatest single season for Aaron, but it's pretty easy to figure out when his best Opening Day was. 

2. Baseball Returns: April 25, 1995

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    Opening Day 1995 was more about everything that 1994 was not.

    In 1994, there were no playoffs, no World Series, no free agent action or offseason trades. Baseball was a morass of legal labor strife

    For a while it looked a lot as if that work stoppage would continue into 1995. Then on March 27th, 1995, Federal Judge and future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a ruling that brought about the end of the work stoppage, and less than a month later, baseball was back. 

    April 25, 1995 wasn't just "Opening Day," it was the resumption of America's pastime. 

1. Jackie Robinson: April 15, 1947

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    Teams win and teams lose; there are MVPs and choke artists. Fantastic finishes and dramatic wins. Then there's Jackie Robinson. 

    When Jackie Robinson took the field as the Opening Day first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, he ushered in an era of change in sports and in many ways American society. 

    Once the baseball color barrier was broken, it was only a matter of time before African-Americans were able to play alongside Caucasian teammates in football, basketball and all major sports. 

    That's not to say that the presence of Jackie Robinson eliminated the specter of racism from American life—it did not. It did however represent a tremendous step in the right direction and serves as the most cherished legacy in the history of Opening Day.