Opening Day looks more like home run derby

Published 12:05 am Friday, March 30, 2018

The Associated Press

Giancarlo Stanton and Matt Davidson gave opening day quite a jolt.
A new baseball season began with a bang Thursday when Ian Happ of the Chicago Cubs homered on the very first pitch.World Series MVP George Springer connected, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis hit walkoff winners and Anthony Rizzo delivered the most emotional drive of the day.
Shohei Ohtani also got off to a nice start with a hit in his first at-bat.
But a year after big leaguers launched a record 6,105 longballs, Stanton and Davidson staged their own long-distance home run derby.
Stanton hit two hard homers and doubled in his debut with the New York Yankees during a 6-1 victory at Toronto. The reigning NL MVP led the majors with 59 home runs last year, then was traded from Miami to the Bronx.
“You want to get the first one out of the way and then you can relax,” Stanton said.
Davidson did even better, hitting three home runs for the Chicago White Sox in a 14-7 romp at Kansas City. He became the fourth player with a three-homer performance on opening day, joining Detroit’s Dmitri Young (2005), the Cubs’ Tuffy Rhodes (1994) and Toronto’s George Bell (1988).
“Special day in anybody’s book,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said.
Not every pitcher got tagged, though.
Justin Verlander pitched six shutout innings for the champion Houston Astros in a 4-1 win over Texas. Luis Severino threw one-hit ball over 5 2/3 scoreless innings for the Yankees. Boston ace Chris Sale gave up just one hit in six innings, but Tampa Ray rallied for six runs in the eighth to win 6-4.
The new season a couple new numbers on the scoreboard, too.
As part of MLB’s pace of play initiatives, mound visits are now counted. Teams are allowed six without pitching changes — by the managers, coaches or infielders — before a trip triggers a mandatory change on the mound.
There didn’t appear to be any flaps with umpires over the new policy, though it seemed to have an early effect in Miami, where Jose Urena gave up a home run to Happ on his first pitch. Dwight Evans is the only other player to connect on the first pitch of a season, doing it for the Red Sox in 1986 off Jack Morris at Tiger Stadium, the Elias Sports Bureau said.
“I was thinking fastball first pitch there,” Happ said.
Urena hit three batters in the first inning and walked two. Even so, it took a while before pitching coach Juan Nieves went to see him — when he did, the scoreboard at Marlins Park counted down the MVs from six to five.
The next inning, Rizzo earned a standing ovation after his home run at Miami.
Both teams wore patches to honor the 17 people killed at his former high school in Parkland, Florida. Crossing home plate, the Cubs star patted the patch on his chest and pointed to the sky.
“That was probably the most out-of-body experience I’ve had hitting a home run in my life,” Rizzo said. “It just felt really good.”
Early in the day, the rain was the big winner.
The Pittsburgh-Detroit game at Comerica Park was rained out, a day after the Washington-Cincinnati game was postponed in advance.
Under gray skies, it was somber at Citi Field, where the New York Mets mourned former star Rusty Staub, who died hours before the opener.
In Toronto, the Blue Jays held a pregame tribute to late ace Roy Halladay and retired the pitcher’s number No. 32.
All over the majors, there was expanded netting to provide extra protection for fans sitting near the field. And in Arizona, the new bullpen buggy — a nod to the past — was set for its first ride to shuttle relievers from bullpens to the mound.
Aaron Boone of the Yankees and Mickey Callaway of the Mets won in their first games as major league managers, Alex Cora of the Red Sox and Gabe Kapler of the Phillies lost.
Ohtani got on the board with his first swing, grounding a hard single to right field for the Los Angeles Angels.
The two-way newcomer from Japan often looked overmatched at the plate in spring training, but did fine in his first try while batting eighth as the designated hitter. The 23-year-old will make his pitching debut Sunday against the Athletics.
It will be a little longer until Greg Holland pitches for St. Louis, but at least he has a job. The closer and the Cardinals agreed to a $14 million, one-year contract less than two hours before they faced the Mets.
Dozens of free agents remain without deals, including Jose Bautista, Mark Reynolds, Carlos Ruiz, Matt Holliday and Melky Cabrera.

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