Greatest Moments and Pictures from MLB's Opening Week

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistApril 8, 2013

Greatest Moments and Pictures from MLB's Opening Week

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    One week down, 25 more to go. 

    The 2013 Major League Baseball season got off to a roaring start with incredible moments—both teams and individual players—to give fans a small taste of everything that is going to come over the next 155 games. 

    Trying to list all of the best and most memorable moments from an entire season can leave you lost, because over the course of six months and 2,430 games, there are so many little things that would be easy to point out. 

    In a small, contained time frame, like the first week of the season, things remain very clear. We can all look back at what happened on Opening Day and remember the smallest details of those matchups. 

    That is exactly what we are going to do right now. Here is a snapshot in time of the best moments and pictures from the first week of this baseball season. 

Bryce Harper Starts His MVP Campaign in Historic Fashion

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    I don't want to say that Bryce Harper had pressure on him entering just his second season with the Washington Nationals, but he was arguably the consensus preseason favorite to win the National League MVP award. 

    For being just 20 years old and having 139 games of experience under his belt, Harper obviously had a lot to live up to. Time will tell if he ultimately makes all those preseason pundits look smart—which is obviously the first thing on his mind with a team talented enough to win the World Series. 

    But for a one-game reintroduction, the Nationals outfielder delivered all that anyone could have asked for. Taking on the Miami Marlins on Opening Day, Harper crushed two Ricky Nolasco breaking balls in his first two at-bats to become the youngest player in MLB history with two home runs on the first day of the season. 

    That's great, kid, but what have you done for us lately?

Collin Cowgill Lights Up Citi Field on Opening Day

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    If you were to flip on a New York Mets game and promptly do a Google search to see who the players starting in the outfield are and where they came from, you are not alone. 

    After all, the big joke of the offseason was that the two highest-paid outfielders for the Mets this season were Bobby Bonilla, who retired in 2001 and last played for the team in 1999, and Jason Bay, who played 288 games in three seasons before the two agreed to part ways last November. 

    Going back to the magic of baseball, no one knew who Collin Cowgill was on Opening Day. New Yorkers probably confused him with the ESPN Radio host who a lot of people don't like. 

    Cowgill is a player who had played 74 games in the big leagues combined in 2011 and 2012 with Arizona and Oakland. He had two career home runs in 196 at-bats. 

    So you can imagine the amazement when Cowgill stepped up in the seventh inning of New York's opener against San Diego with the bases loaded and proceeded to blast the first grand slam of the year to give the Mets an 11-2 lead.

    There won't be a lot of things to celebrate in New York this season, though another player does make an appearance on this list later, but Cowgill gave the fans something to cheer about. 

Battle of AL Central Aces in Chicago

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    When it comes to American League Central pitchers, the conversation starts and stops with Justin Verlander. 

    Not that anyone will confuse Chicago's Chris Sale and Kansas City's James Shields with the 2011 Cy Young winner, but those two studs put on a dazzling display, the likes of which Verlander would be proud to see, on Opening Day in Chicago. 

    Shields was acquired during the offseason from Tampa Bay to help resurrect a Royals rotation that ranked 26th in baseball with a 5.01 starters ERA in 2012. 

    Sale burst onto the scene last year with an All-Star appearance and sixth-place finish in AL Cy Young voting after posting a 3.05 ERA with 192 strikeouts in 192 innings. 

    With the recent track record of these two pitchers, it should come as no surprise that Shields and Sale combined to throw 13.2 innings with 15 hits, one earned run (a fifth-inning home run from Chicago's Tyler Flowers), 13 strikeouts and one walk. 

    The White Sox won the game on Flowers' home run, but the pitching duel let everyone know that there are other studs to watch in the division outside of Detroit. 

Clayton Kershaw Does It All for the Dodgers

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    Clayton Kershaw was already regarded as one of the best pitchers in baseball. After all, he won the 2011 National League Cy Young Award, has had four consecutive seasons with an ERA under 3.00, and three straight seasons with at least 200 innings pitched and 200 strikeouts. 

    The Dodgers left-hander has done all of this before the age of 25, having just had a birthday on March 19. 

    So what could Kershaw possibly do that we haven't already seen? How about hitting a go-ahead home run to dead center field against division rival and defending World Series champion San Francisco on Opening Day?

    According to Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated, Kershaw became just the second pitcher in history to hit a home run and throw on shutout on Opening Day. Bob Lemon was the first to accomplish that feat in 1953. 

    That was just part of a masterful day for Kershaw, who threw a complete game, four-hit shutout with seven strikeouts in addition to providing some offensive fireworks in the Dodgers' 4-0 victory. You can practically hear the Los Angeles ownership writing a bigger check to keep him for a long time as we speak. 

King Felix Dazzles in Season Debut

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    Felix Hernandez has been the face of the Seattle Mariners for years, though some might argue that he shared the spotlight with Ichiro before he was traded to New York last season. 

    It was clear that the team viewed him as the present and future when it signed Hernandez, the 2010 American League Cy Young winner, to a then-record seven-year, $175 million extension in February. (Detroit's Justin Verlander surpassed his deal just a month later.)

    There were some concerns about Hernandez's elbow prior to the extension being finalized, but the two sides were able to work out the deal in the end. 

    Any fears about Hernandez not being the same pitcher this season were put to rest when he confused the defending American League West champion Oakland A's in the season opener. The 27-year-old struck out eight and allowed just three hits in 7.2 innings of work. 

    Even though Hernandez doesn't have the velocity he once did, he is a much better, more efficient pitcher today. His changeup is as good as there is in baseball, everything he throws moves, his command is fantastic and he will attack hitters with any pitch in any count. 

Chris Davis Goes on a Historic Offensive Tear

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    Of all the players one might have predicted to go on a tear to start the season, it is safe to say that Baltimore's Chris Davis would not crack the top 100. Everyone knows that he can hit the ball really far, but he also strikes out a lot and doesn't have a good approach. 

    But Davis proved why baseball is a game that you can't try to predict or find real logic in. He went on a historic run through the first four games of the season that we have never before seen. 

    First, in hitting home runs in each of Baltimore's first four games, Davis joined Willie Mays, Mark McGwire and Nelson Cruz as the only players in history to do that. 

    Things didn't stop there, as Davis' 16 RBI through four games set a new Major League Baseball record. While Davis is getting all the credit, you have to acknowledge his teammates, because you can't drive in runs if the hitters in front of you don't get on base. 

    Davis' home run streak ended on April 6 and his RBI streak ended a day later, both against Minnesota. 

Yu Darvish Has a Near-Perfect Day

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    Yu Darvish struggled at times in his first season in Major League Baseball. He really turned a corner at the end of August, commanding all of his pitches better and working off his mid-90s fastball a lot more than before. 

    The results showed, as Darvish walked just 10 hitters in his last seven regular-season starts that covered 50.2 innings. He also struck out 59 and allowed 30 hits during that span. 

    Expectations were raised for the 26-year-old right-hander coming into the season, as he was arguably the No. 2 choice among preseason prognosticators for the AL Cy Young Award (Justin Verlander will always hold the top spot until he gives a reason he shouldn't.)

    So in his first start of the season against Houston, Darvish decides to throw 8.2 innings of perfect baseball and strike out 14 along the way. He was one out away from history when he left a fastball in the middle of the plate that shortstop Marwin Gonzalez lined back through the box. 

    Texas manager Ron Washington pulled Darvish after the hit 111 pitches, but the tease we got at the end of last season was clearly just a sign of bigger things to come. 

Matt Holliday Is Really, Really Strong

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    Up to this point, I have used words to paint a picture to remind you of some of the best moments from the first week of baseball games. 

    Then I got to the point where I wanted to use Matt Holliday's incredible home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and I wasn't sure how to put into words just how impressive a feat this was. I can tell you he hit a ball off the top of his shoes, but that wouldn't be good enough. 

    I could even sit here and tell you that Matt Holliday is a really good hitter with really good power, but you already knew that. Eventually I just decided that the best course of action is to put in a GIF of the home run for you to marvel at over and over again. 

    (Image courtesy of BaseballProspectus.com)

Matt Harvey Picks Up Where He Left off

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    Enjoy all the talk about the team now, Mets fans, because even you would admit that it probably won't last for too long. But when you have a young stud at the top of your rotation like Matt Harvey, you will always be watchable, at least once every five days. 

    Harvey has seen his stock rise since he was drafted out of North Carolina in 2010. He always had a live arm, but now he has a better idea of where the ball is going when it leaves his hand, and the off-speed stuff has ticked up a grade or two. 

    After a 59.1-inning appetizer last season that saw him strikeout 70, Harvey did not miss a beat in his first start of 2013. He carved up San Diego's lineup to the tune of 10 strikeouts in seven shutout innings. He also allowed just one hit and two walks.

    Even though things got off to a rough start for the Mets with Johan Santana requiring season-ending shoulder surgery, Harvey is going to be a fixture at the top of the rotation for a long time to come. 

Orioles vs. Rays in an AL East Showdown

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    Last year the Baltimore Orioles took care of business down the stretch against the Tampa Bay Rays, securing their first playoff berth since 1997 and ending their fellow AL East rival's chances of making it to the postseason. 

    The two teams picked up right where they left off in just the second game of the 2013 season. The Orioles jumped out to a 3-0 lead off Jeremy Hellickson in the first inning and were cruising through the fifth inning. 

    Things fell apart in the sixth and seventh innings, as the Rays scored seven runs and took a 7-5 lead. The Orioles got a run in the eighth inning to make it a 7-6 game heading into the ninth inning. 

    Rays closer Fernando Rodney, who was so great last season with a 0.60 ERA and 0.78 WHIP, gave up the tying run after walking Nolan Reimold and allowing a double to Brian Roberts. 

    Orioles manager Buck Showalter handed the ball to Tommy Hunter in the bottom of the eighth inning, and Hunter started the ninth. That bullpen, which was so instrumental in the playoff run last season, did not come through in this game. Hunter gave up a walk-off home run to Matt Joyce, making it the sixth earned run given up by the 'pen in just 2.1 innings of work. 

    But it was a very good game between two teams with high expectations this season and who figure to play a lot more games like this. 

Cliff Lee Still Gets No Support but Doesn't Let It Stop Him

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    It was an interesting opening week for the Philadelphia Phillies' trio of starting pitchers, Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Hamels got beat up against Atlanta, giving up seven hits (three home runs) and five earned runs in five innings.

    Halladay followed that up with one of the strangest performances you will ever see. He lasted just 3.1 innings, threw 95 pitches, giving up six hits, three walks and five earned runs. But of the 10 outs he recorded, nine of them came via strikeout. 

    Facing an 0-3 start against an NL East rival to start the season was not exactly what Philadelphia had in mind. Enter: Cliff Lee. 

    Lee, who got the 10th fewest runs of support per start last season (via ESPN.com), decided that the best way to actually get a victory would be to shut down a powerful lineup. He was masterful, throwing eight shutout innings, allowing just two hits and striking out eight with no walks. 

    The Phillies only scored two runs, but that was more than enough for Lee.

    Hamels and Halladay got more attention coming into the season,because the former signed a big extension last year and was starting on Opening Day, and the latter was coming off an injury-plagued 2012 and a serious dip in fastball velocity this spring. But Lee is the one constant that this team has in the rotation right now. 

Jeff Samardzija Can't Be Touched, Kind of

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    Jeff Samardzija forced the Chicago Cubs to put him in the starting rotation last year thanks to a better delivery that allowed him to throw more strikes. This year, while it has only been two starts, is yet another sign of his evolution as a pitcher. 

    Starting on Opening Day against Pittsburgh and continuing through Sunday at Atlanta, Samardzija has been everything the Cubs could have asked for. 

    After finishing fourth in strikeouts per nine innings pitched in 2012 (9.3), Samardzija is off to a roaring start in the K department already this year. Granted, he has done it against the Pirates and Braves, two teams with a lot of hitters who will swing and miss. 

    Looking particularly at his start against Atlanta, Samardzija was incredible through five innings. He struck out 12 of 15 batters and was very economical with just 87 pitches. 

    Things fell apart near the end of the fifth inning, as Samardzija walked Tim Hudson and threw two wild pitches to let the tying run score. The sixth inning started out great, as The Shark struck out Justin Upton, but four of the next five hitters reached base to end his day after just 5.2 innings. 

    Through two starts covering 13.2 innings, Samardzija leads all of baseball with 22 strikeouts. If he can harness his command consistently, he could easily pitch at the top of a rotation. A great start to what should be a big season for the former Notre Dame wide receiver. 

Cincinnati Plays HR Derby vs. Washington

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    Through the first three games of the season—even though it was against the lowly Miami lineup—the Washington Nationals had given up just one run. The pitching staff, once again, was all the rage in the National League. 

    Then Friday night against Cincinnati happened, and things started to even out. 

    The Reds hit six home runs in a 15-0 thrashing of the Nationals. Dan Haren, who signed in Washington after the Angels declined his contract option, was the torn apart, as he gave up nine hits, four home runs and six runs in just four innings. 

    Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart each hit two home runs, Shin-Soo Choo had a solo shot. Xavier Paul put the cherry on top of the sundae with a pinch-hit grand slam in the seventh inning. 

    While that was not exactly the start Haren wanted, the Reds could not have asked for a better start against the team that finished with the best record in baseball last year and figures to be in that mix again. 

    To make things better for the Reds, they also defeated Stephen Strasburg on Sunday to take two of the three games in the series. 

Will Middlebrooks Just Misses History

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    This is going to be a big season for Will Middlebrooks. He was given the starting third base job last season after Kevin Youkilis was traded, but an injury suffered in August cut his season short after just 75 games. 

    Even though he is just 24 years old, the Red Sox need their young third baseman to show some improvement at the plate. Middlebrooks walked just 13 times in 267 at-bats and struck out 70 times. He did hit 15 home runs and slugged .509, so he was doing a few things right. 

    Sunday against Toronto was the best day in the still-young career of Middlebrooks.

    He went 4-for-5 with three home runs, a double and four RBI. Stepping to the plate in the eighth inning with a chance to tie the record with four home runs in a game, he launched a ball high into left field that looked like it had a chance to get out before fading on the warning track. 

The Upton Brothers Love Drama

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    When the Atlanta Braves acquired Justin Upton from Arizona to play alongside Jason Heyward and his brother B.J. Upton, it was viewed as an opportunity for the younger Upton brother to get a fresh start in a place where he would be welcomed. 

    It didn't take Justin long to make his presence felt, as he hit five home runs in the first week of the season. All of them coming with two strikes. 

    But the real fireworks came on Saturday night, with the Braves hosting the Chicago Cubs and trailing by a run with Carlos Marmol taking the hill in the bottom of the ninth. 

    B.J. Upton led off the inning with a monster home run to center field, his first as a member of the Braves and just his second hit of the year. 

    After Heyward flied out to left field, Justin Upton stepped up to the plate, delivered the fireworks and made history. Upton hit a moon shot to center field to end the game. In the process, the Uptons became the first pair of brothers to hit a game-tying and walk-off home run in a major league game. 

Jose Fernandez Electrifies in MLB Debut

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    Even before he stepped on the mound in Citi Field to make his first major league start at just 20 years old, Jose Fernandez was going to be the best story in baseball—long before he was drafted by the Marlins with the 14th pick in the 2011 draft. 

    If you haven't heard his story about defecting from Cuba with his family, it really is worth your time. 

    Moving onto the field for his debut against the Mets, Fernandez was everything prospect fiends heard he was, and then some. Not only did he show a power fastball-curveball combination, but his changeup, said to be the weakest offering, was on point with late fade and great separation from the fastball. 

    Fernandez wound up throwing 80 pitches in five innings, striking out eight, giving up three hits and one run. He left the game with a 3-1 lead that the bullpen couldn't hold onto, as Marlon Byrd hit a walk-off single against Steve Cishek in the ninth inning. 

    It will be interesting to see how teams adjust to him as more video and scouting reports come out, but for a first start, this was as good as anyone could have hoped for from a pitcher with no experience above A-ball. 

    For more breakdowns of all things baseball, or if you just want to chat about the game, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.