10 Most Memorable Opening Day Performances of the Last 20 Years

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistApril 1, 2021

10 Most Memorable Opening Day Performances of the Last 20 Years

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Opening Day is the perfect time for a legendary performance.

    With baseball fans across the country glued to their televisions in anticipation of the start of a new baseball year, memorable moments abound on the first day of a fresh MLB season.

    Ahead, we've taken a stroll through recent baseball history and highlighted 10 of the most memorable Opening Day performances from across baseball.

    It's a collection of gaudy hit totals, impressive displays of power, lights-out pitching and even some pitchers who rake.

    Will anyone make a case to join this list Thursday?

Craig Biggio, 2001

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    PAT SULLIVAN/Associated Press

    Stat Line: 5 PA, 5-for-5, 3 R

    Craig Biggio did not pile up 3,060 career hits by accident.

    The longtime Houston Astros star was entering his age-35 season in 2001, but he was still going strong.

    He finished that season with a .292/.382/.455 line that included 35 doubles, 20 home runs, 70 RBI and 118 runs scored while tallying 180 hits. Five of those hits came on Opening Day out of the No. 2 spot in the Houston batting order as he tied several others for the record for hits on Opening Day.

    He ended up with six multi-hit games in April, and he recorded the 2,000th hit of his MLB career on May 4.

Corey Patterson, 2003

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    STEPHEN J. CARRERA/Associated Press

    Stat Line: 6 PA, 4-for-6, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 2 R

    Corey Patterson was going to be the next big thing for the Chicago Cubs.

    The No. 3 overall pick in the 1998 draft and a top-20 prospect on the Baseball America Top 100 list three years running to begin his pro career, he was entering his second full season as the starting center fielder in 2003.

    The 23-year-old had a huge game right out of the box, homering twice and tying the Opening Day record with seven RBI while hitting out of the No. 7 spot in the lineup in a 15-2 victory over the New York Mets.

    He was in the midst of a breakout season in early July, posting a .298/.329/.511 line with 17 doubles, seven triples, 13 home runs and 16 steals through 83 games, but his season was abruptly cut short on July 6 when he suffered a torn ACL.

    The Cubs went on to make the playoffs, acquiring veteran Kenny Lofton at the trade deadline to plug the hole in center field, and that pre-injury form proved to be the peak of Patterson's career.

Dmitri Young, 2005

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    DUANE BURLESON/Associated Press

    Stat Line: 5 PA, 4-for-4, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 4 R, 1 HBP

    The Detroit Tigers had little reason for optimism in 2005. Mired in a string of 11 straight losing seasons, including four consecutive 90-loss campaigns, they were once again expected to be one of the doormats of the American League.

    But for one game at least, Dmitri Young gave fans reason to cheer.

    The 31-year-old hit a team-high 21 home runs during the 2005 season, and three of those long balls came on Opening Day in an 11-2 blowout win over the Kansas City Royals.

    The first two came off Royals starter Jose Lima in the second and third innings, and the third was an eighth-inning blast off hard-throwing reliever Mike MacDougal.

    He is one of just four players in MLB history to hit three home runs on Opening Day.

    We'll get to another one from that list shortly...

Felix Hernandez, 2007

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Stat Line: W, 8 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 12 K

    Felix Hernandez made the first of what would be 11 Opening Day starts for the Seattle Mariners in 2007, and it was a doozy.

    Still just 21 years old, he took the ball at home against an Oakland Athletics team fresh off a 93-win season and a trip to the ALCS the previous year.

    He cruised through eight scoreless innings, scattering three hits and two walks while racking up 12 strikeouts in a dominant performance before giving way to J.J. Putz in the ninth for the save.

    The right-hander followed that up with a one-hit shutout against the Boston Red Sox on the road, and while he dealt with some ups and downs as the season progressed, those first two outings were a glimpse of the sustained excellence to come.

Jason Heyward, 2010

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    Rich Addicks/Associated Press

    Stat Line: 5 PA, 2-for-5, HR, 4 RBI, 2 R

    After hitting .323/.408/.555 with 46 extra-base hits and 10 steals while reaching Triple-A in his age-19 season, Jason Heyward began the 2010 season as the No. 1 prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America.

    With a void to fill in right field following a disappointing season for Jeff Francoeur, Heyward played his way onto the Opening Day roster with a strong spring.

    He made his MLB debut with sky-high expectations on April 5, 2010, facing off against the Chicago Cubs and right-hander Carlos Zambrano.

    Batting in the No. 7 spot, he stepped into the batter's box for the first time with two men on and one out in the bottom of the first inning. After working a 2-0 count, he crushed a 446-foot homer run to right field to kick off his career with a bang, paving the way for a 16-5 blowout win.

Clayton Kershaw, 2013

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Stat Line (Pitching): W, 9 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K

    Stat Line (Hitting): 3 PA, 1-for-3, HR, RBI, R

    What more can one player do to win a baseball game?

    Facing off against the defending champion San Francisco Giants, reigning National League ERA leader Clayton Kershaw twirled a gem on the mound, tossing his sixth career shutout while allowing just four hits and zero walks.

    However, Matt Cain matched zeroes with him for six innings before George Kontos pitched a perfect seventh inning in relief.

    After Kershaw retired the Giants in order in the top of the eighth with a pair of strikeouts, he stepped into the batter's box to lead off the bottom of the inning. He turned around the first pitch he saw from Kontos for a home run to center field, securing his own win in the process.

    The Dodgers tacked on three more insurance runs before the eighth inning was over, but give Kershaw credit for doing everything needed on both sides to come away with a victory.

Trevor Story, 2016

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    Trevor Story
    Trevor StoryDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Stat Line: 6 PA, 2-for-6, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R

    With Troy Tulowitzki traded at the 2015 deadline and replacement Jose Reyes serving a domestic violence suspension, the shortstop position was a glaring hole for the Colorado Rockies when spring training began in 2016.

    Prospect Trevor Story hit .279/.350/.514 with 40 doubles, 10 triples, 20 home runs and 22 steals in 130 games between Double-A and Triple-A in 2015, and he quickly emerged as the best in-house option. Service-time considerations were pushed to the side when he was placed on the Opening Day roster, and he rewarded the team by crushing a pair of home runs on Opening Day.

    That kicked off an absurd start to his season as he slugged seven home runs in his first six games. He finished the season with a 122 OPS+ and 27 home runs in 97 games to finish fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting.

    The decision to put him on the Opening Day roster means he's a free agent this coming offseason rather than after the 2022 season.

Madison Bumgarner, 2017

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Stat Line (Pitching): ND, 7 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 11 K

    Stat Line (Hitting): 3 PA, 2-for-2, 2 HR, 2 RBI, BB

    Unlike the Clayton Kershaw start in which he homered on Opening Day, this one did not end in a victory for the San Francisco Giants. However, it was undoubtedly one of the most memorable Opening Day performances of this era.

    Widely regarded as the best hitting pitcher in the game, Madison Bumgarner backed it up by slugging two home runs to kick off the 2017 season.

    He took Arizona Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke deep in the top of the fifth inning and went yard off reliever Andrew Chafin in the top of the seventh to give the Giants a 4-3 lead.

    After pitching a scoreless bottom of the seventh and recording his 11th strikeout of the day, Bumgarner exited with a one-run lead.

    Unfortunately, the bullpen coughed up that lead in the eighth, and Mark Melancon blew a save in the ninth.

Matt Davidson, 2018

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    David Banks/Associated Press

    Stat Line: 5 PA, 3-for-4, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 4 R, BB

    In his first extended MLB action in 2017, Matt Davidson slugged 26 home runs as the primary designated hitter for a Chicago White Sox team that lost 95 games.

    That power production was nice, but after he hit just .220 with an ugly .260 on-base percentage and a 37.2 percent strikeout rate, he was by no means guaranteed a spot on the roster the following year.

    With a .328/.411/.594 line that included four home runs and 19 RBI during spring training, he played his way into the team's plans for the 2018 season, and he was penciled into the cleanup spot as the starting DH on Opening Day.

    He certainly looked the part of a middle-of-the-order force on Opening Day, becoming just the fourth player in MLB history to homer three times to open the season.

    Tim Anderson also had two home runs in the game, and Jose Abreu hit one as the White Sox came away with a 14-7 victory over the Kansas City Royals.

    Davidson posted a 102 OPS+ with 20 home runs and 62 RBI for the year, but he was non-tendered during the offseason.

Kyle Hendricks, 2020

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Stat Line: W, 9.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K

    Kyle Hendricks quietly continues to go about his business as one of the best pitchers in baseball.

    He posted a 2.88 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP and a brilliant 64-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 81.1 innings last season to finish ninth in NL Cy Young voting, and he threw his fourth career shutout on Opening Day.

    The soft-tossing right-hander needed just 103 pitches to blank the Milwaukee Brewers in a game that took only two hours and 30 minutes to play.

    It was the first Opening Day shutout by a Chicago Cubs pitcher since Bill Bonham in 1974 and the first by any pitcher since Clayton Kershaw in 2013, according to Jordan Bastian of MLB.com.

    Not bad for a guy who barely scrapes 90 mph on the radar gun.

    Tip of the cap to Cleveland ace Shane Bieber, who threw his own gem on Opening Day in 2020 with 14 strikeouts and just four hits allowed in six scoreless innings.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.


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