Ranking the Biggest Surprises from MLB Opening Day 2013
Well folks, we made it.
It took six long months, but we finally made it to Opening Day. While the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers got us started on Sunday night, Monday was deemed the official Opening Day for the 2013-14 season.
Opening Day has a way of giving hope to many baseball fans across the country.
For some teams, Opening Day represents the only day they will be sitting in first place in their respective divisions. For others, it's just the tip of the 162-game iceberg.
But Opening Day also has a way of surprising us. For instance, in 2012, the Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians participated in the longest Opening Day game in history, needing 16 innings to finish their five-hour, 14-minute affair.
So what did Opening Day have in store for us this season?
Well, here are the biggest shockers from Monday's action.
Note, this does not include the surprising victory for the Houston Astros over the Texas Rangers on Sunday night (though unsurprisingly, there were two blown calls from the umpires in that game).
Kershaw the Hero
It wouldn't surprise a whole lot of people to hear that Clayton Kershaw threw a four-hit shutout.
The Los Angeles Dodgers' star left-hander was absolutely masterful on the mound against the reigning World Series champion San Fransisco Giants.
But Kershaw's pitching performance was not the story coming out of Dodger Stadium Monday afternoon.
In a scoreless ballgame, Kershaw came to bat in the bottom of the eighth. And on the first pitch he saw from George Kontos, Kershaw cracked the first home run of his career, giving himself and his club a much needed 1-0 lead.
On a day highlighted by Dodgers Cy Young award winners—Kershaw was the 2011 National League recipient, and he was proceeded by three-time winner Sandy Koufax throwing out the ceremonial first pitch—it was a historic home run that stole the show.
Kershaw became the first pitcher in six decades to toss a shutout and hit a home run on Opening Day, the last time coming from Bob Lemon in 1953.
Oh yeah...and the Dodgers won the game 4-0.
It may not be that big of a surprise to see the New York Mets win a game, especially against an offense-lacking San Diego Padres club.
But who would have expected the Mets to come out and put an 11-spot on the scoreboard on Opening Day?
Yes, the Mets defeated the Padres 11-2 on Monday.
Jon Niese, the Mets' Opening Day starter, was far from perfect, but effective. He went 6.2 innings, allowing two runs on four hits, striking out four. And, in doing his best Clayton Kershaw impression, Niese found himself on the other side of the box score, singling in a run in the second inning, padding the Mets' lead to 2-0.
Perhaps the most surprising part of the game came in the bottom of the seventh inning, when Mets center fielder Collin Cowgill came to the dish with the bases loaded.
Cowgill entered the 2013 season with a total of two home runs in as many seasons.
But in his final at-bat on Monday, he launched a 2-2 fastball over the left field fence for a grand slam, the first of his career. The blast was the icing on the cake for the Mets, giving them their nine-run cushion and sealing their Opening Day victory.
It wasn't Paul Konerko that gave the Chicago White Sox all the offense they would need to win on Opening Day. It wasn't Adam Dunn either. It wasn't even Alex Rios or Dayan Viciedo.
No, it was catcher Tyler Flowers, whose fifth-inning solo home run provided starter Chris Sale with the only offense he would require to shut down the Kansas City Royals.
Flowers, 27, has some big shin guards to replace. For the first time in his brief career, he becomes the Sox's everyday catcher, after A.J. Pierzynski left for Texas via free agency.
In parts of four major league seasons, Flowers has amassed a total of 12 home runs, seven of them coming a year ago. Flowers also was instrumental behind the plate, guiding Sale through 7.2 masterful innings.
Sale struck out seven Royals, walking just one. He did allow seven hits, but was able to work out of any minimal danger that occurred.
Sale was making his first Opening Day start and was able to put any jitters aside while he and Flowers shutout the Royals, 1-0.
Home (Not) Sweet Home
It had been quite a while since the New York Yankees lost an Opening Day affair at home.
In fact, the last time it happened was back in 1982, when the Bombers lost to the Chicago White Sox 7-6.
Well, it was a different shade of Sox that did the trick this time. The Boston Red Sox, led by starter Jon Lester, defeated the Yankees 8-2 on Monday.
But, what was truly shocking was the poor performance of Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia.
The big left-hander allowed four earned runs in five innings. He struck out five and walked four. It was a grind for Sabathia, and although all of the Sox runs came in one inning, he just did not look sharp at all.
It ought to be a dogfight in the American League East in 2013, and the opening salvo has been fired with the Red Sox taking the opener against the Yankees.
Two for the Harp
For those of you riding the Mike Trout bandwagon, allow me to introduce you to Bryce Harper.
You may know him as the 20-year-old phenom who was crowned National League Rookie of the Year in 2012. Perhaps you know him as the first overall selection by the Washington Nationals in the 2010 draft. No?
Well, then maybe you'll recognize him as the kid who slugged two solo home runs in the Nationals' 2-0 Opening Day victory over the Miami Marlins on Monday.
Harper joins Raul Mondesi and Carlton Fisk as the only players to hit two home runs in their team's first game of the year, following a season in which they were named Rookie of the Year.
He also became the fourth-youngest player to hit a home run in his team's first game of the season.
His two solo shots were all that starter Stephen Strasburg would need, as he retired 19 Marlins in a row en route to his first Opening Day victory.
But Harper was the story in this game, and after his second long ball in the fourth inning, he greeted the Washington crowd with a curtain call from the top step of the dugout.
With his parents in the crowd, it truly was a special day for the Harper family and the Nationals organization.