Opening Day for Major League Baseball has finally come. This series of games have produced more impressive performances than I remember in recent years.
Creating the setting of the season was the return to Japan for Ichiro Suzuki—and the MLB arranged it in spectacular fashion.
The series was more than simply the return of a Japanese player, but an avenue for Major League Baseball to show their presence in rebuilding Japan—just a year after the tsunami and devastating earthquake. Several players and coaches traveled to the affected areas and conducted a baseball clinic.
There is no better way to start a season of America's favorite game.
The following five performances I will recap were the most impressive to start the season.
In the return to Japan for Ichiro Suzuki, the fans were given quite the show. His four hits were impressive, but may have been overshadowed by a game-winning performance by Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley.
The crowd of 44,227 fans occupying the Tokyo Dome did not have to wait long to find a reason to cheer for the beloved Ichiro.
Suzuki singled in the first, after Oakland pitcher Brandon McCarthy deflected a ground ball at the mound, and Ichiro beat out the throw of shortstop Cliff Pennington.
With his second single of the night coming in the fourth inning, Ichiro followed Dustin Ackley's solo home run.
Suzuki singled twice more, once in the sixth to center field and another coming in the 11th, giving him his lone RBI of the day.
Also in the 11th, with the scored tied 1-1, Ackley singled to center field, scoring Brendan Ryan for the go-ahead run against pitcher Andrew Carignan—completing an exciting Opening Day performance for the Japanese fans.
On a night when the Miami Marlins were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals in their brand new ballpark, the Fish did not get what they expected.
Kyle Lohse spoiled the Opening Day festivities for the Marlins by flirting with a no-hitter into the seventh inning and pitching effectively into the eighth.
By the fourth inning, Miami was without a single baserunner and the 36,601 fans were wishing that Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter had not started the season on the disabled list, enabling Lohse to become the opening day starter.
When Emilio Bonifacio finally reached base in the fourth by being hit by a pitch, the first baserunner of the night for the home team was quickly erased when Hanley Ramirez grounded into a double play.
In the seventh, Jose Reyes recorded a single for the first hit of the night. With one out in the eighth, Omar Infante scored a run on catcher John Buck's double—finally giving the Miami crowd a reason to cheer as Lohse was removed from the game due to a high pitch count.
The run was the last sign of life from the Marlins' offense, and Lohse recorded a win with 7.1 IP on only two hits and one earned run.
The 2012 campaign between Tampa Bay and New York in the American League East Division started just as expected, and ended in an even more spectacular fashion.
The duo of Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria excelled at the plate, despite facing one of the American league's most dominant aces in CC Sabathia.
Longoria could not miss as he stood in the batter's box, hitting 3-for-3 including a solo homer in the bottom of the third inning.
Longoria added another run to his flawless night at the plate when Pena wasted no time in making Sabathia pay early in the game. In the first inning, Pena Launched a ball over the fence with the bases loaded.
As if the grand slam on Opening Day was not enough to make this list, Pena added to his Opening Day resume with quite a bit of heroics.
In the bottom of the ninth, after Desmond Jennings led off with a single and Ben Zobrist tripled to score the tying run, Mariano Rivera intentionally walked two consecutive batters to load the bases.
In steps Pena.
To set up the heroics, one must know that Rivera had converted 27 consecutive saves against the Rays, and 60-of-61. Pena had also gone 0-for-11 lifetime against Rivera.
All of that was irrelevant to Pena, as he smashed a ball of the left-center field wall for his walk-off RBI—totaling five for the day.
The Rays gathered in the middle of the infield, celebrating and mauling Pena with congratulations. There was no better way to begin the season long battle of the American League East.
Entering Opening Day, nearly all of the attention surrounding the Los Angeles Angels was directed toward newly acquired Albert Pujols—who disappointed with an 0-for-3 debut at the plate.
Not disappointing, however, was Angels ace Jered Weaver.
With the game being overall very offensively inept, Weaver continued to baffle hitters through eight dominant innings.
Giving up four hits and striking out 10, Weaver kept the Kansas City Royals scoreless until Peter Bourjos broke the game open with a bases loaded single for the Angels. Eric Aybar soon tripled with bases loaded once again, giving Jered a 5-0 lead and later securing him the win.
After allowing two consecutive singles in the third inning, Weaver retired 13 straight batters while walking none throughout the game.
After finishing second in Cy Young contention last year in the American League, Weaver continued to pitch brilliantly and proved he will once again likely be a front-runner for the award.
After having surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate capsule in his left shoulder, Johan Santana waited 19 months before stepping upon the mound in a Major League game again.
With less speed on his fastball, but adding a slider to his repertoire, Santana still showed complete control with his disabling changeup and pitched five scoreless innings.
Last year, the New York Mets rewrote baseball history by cutting nearly $45 million from their payroll—believed to be the largest difference recorded.
Although they cut such a large amount of money, Mets fans still had Santana starting on Opening Day look forward to—and he did not disappoint in front of the largest crowd ever of 42,080 at Citi Field.
Santana gave up an early first-inning single to Martin Prado, but found his groove and struck out the next three batters in succession.
With a strong no-decision performance striking out five batters, despite being pulled early in the fifth, Santana has inserted his name into the discussion of great pitchers once again.