By Cliff Corcoran
Drawing meaningful conclusions from the first game of a 162-game season crosses the line between clever and stupid, but just because we can't assign much meaning to Opening Day doesn't mean that interesting moments didn't happen. With that in mind, here's the most interesting thing that happened in each of the 14 Opening Day games played on Sunday and Monday (as for the 15th, it rained: the Tigers-White Sox matchup between Justin Verlander and Jose Quintana in Chicago is rescheduled for 1:10 pm CT on Tuesday afternoon).
Rays 7, Yankees 3: Masahiro Tanaka gets rocked
Yankees ace Tanaka posted a 0.38 ERA and 0.59 WHIP and led all pitchers with 16 or more innings pitched in Spring Training this year. So how did he open the regular season? By allowing two runs before getting the second out of the first inning. In total, Tanaka gave up seven runs on eight hits (just one fewer than he allowed all spring) and two walks in a mere 2 2/3 innings pitched, resulting in a regular season ERA of 23.63 and his regular season WHIP at 3.75. At the conclusion of Monday's action, Tanaka had the worst WHIP and second-worst ERA (Jhoulys Chacin of the Padres posted a 24.30 mark) of any of this year's Opening Day starters.
Diamondbacks 6, Giants 5: Madison Bumgarner goes yard ... twice
Over the previous three seasons, Bumgarner hit as many home runs, 12, as the next three most prolific power-hitting pitchers combined. Sunday afternoon in Phoenix, he upped the stakes, becoming the first pitcher ever to hit two home runs on Opening Day and just the second in the past 10 years to hit two in a game at any point in the season, joining Noah Syndergaard, who hit two against the Dodgers last May. What's more, the exit velocities on his two round-trippers were the highest for any home runs hit by a pitcher since the league-wide introduction of Statcast™ two years ago.
Cardinals 4, Cubs 3: Carlos Martinez joins Bob Gibson
Martinez, who signed a five-year, $51 million extension in February with St. Louis, turned in this season's most impressive Opening Day pitching performance. Facing the defending world champion Chicago Cubs, who led the National League in OPS+ last season, Martinez allowed just six hits, five of them singles, over 7 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out 10 without walking or hitting a single batter. With that, he became just the fourth pitcher ever to strikeout out 10 or more batters on Opening Day without allowing a walk or a run. Gibson did it in 1967 with a 13-strikeout shutout. The Phillies' Chris Short did it in 1968, and Jered Weaver did it for the Angels in 2012, back when he could still get his fastball into the mid-90s.
Nationals 4, Marlins 2: Bryce Harper goes deep on Opening Day, again
Harper hit two home runs on Opening Day in 2013. Then he hit another on Opening Day in 2015, and another in 2016. This year, he waited until the sixth inning, then delivered a solo shot off Miami's David Phelps that gave the Nationals their first run in a game they would ultimately win 4-2. That home run was Harper's fifth on Opening Day in his career, which makes him both the active leader and one of just 34 players to hit five Opening Day home runs in their careers. If that doesn't sound impressive, remember that Harper is 24. He is the first player in Major League history to collect five Opening Day home runs before the age of 25. The All-Time record for Opening Day home runs is eight by Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey and Adam Dunn. Harper has roughly 15 years to get four more to break that record.
Mets 6, Braves 0: Noah Syndergaard throws smoke (but there's cause for concern)
Syndergaard dominated the Braves for six innings on Monday -- throwing such seemingly impossible pitches as triple-digit two-seamers and low-90s changeups that dove out of the zone -- striking out seven without allowing a walk or a run. However, he had to leave the game after throwing just 86 pitches due to a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand. Syndergaard will get an extra day of rest before his next start thanks to Tuesday's off-day, and the Mets say they aren't concerned, but the Mets' lack of concern is often good reason for concern in and of itself.
Red Sox 5, Pirates 3: Red Sox exploit the shift
The Sox scored all five of their runs in this game with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning. Jackie Bradley Jr. got things started with a two-out triple off Pirates starter Gerrit Cole, but what kept the line moving was a pair of infield singles that took advantage of the Pirates' shift against a pair of switch-hitters batting left. Pablo Sandoval hit a hard groundball directly at where the shortstop would normally play, forcing Jordy Mercer to range far to his right then make a high throw to first. Sandy Leon then dropped down a bunt to the left side that Cole was unable to handle. That turned the order over and the big bats delivered, with Dustin Pedroia singling home Sandoval, and Andrew Benintendi delivering a three-run home run.
Rockies 7, Brewers 5: Junior Guerra draws Opening Day start, but hurts himself
Milwaukee's Junior Guerra's path to the Brewers' Opening Day start was unprecedented, to say the least. Signed by the Braves at 16 in 2001, he didn't pitch in the United States until 2006, sat out the entire 2007 season after being released, sat out the second half of the 2008 season after a positive performance-enhancing drug test, then became the ultimate journeyman, pitching in Venezuela, Spain, Mexico, Italy and the American independent leagues before returning to affiliated baseball in 2015. Claimed off waivers by the Brewers after that season, he was a hotshot rookie last year at the age of 31 and an Opening Day starter at 32. Unfortunately, his near-miraculous opportunity came to an abrupt end when Guerra pulled a calf muscle running out a bunt in the bottom of the third inning. Guerra will be placed on the disabled list on Tuesday and is expected to be out longer than the minimum 10 days.
Twins 7, Royals 1: Byron Buxton demonstrates a five-star catch
Statcast™ is introducing some new categories this year. Among the more compelling is "catch probability," which determines the likelihood of a ball to the outfield being caught based on its location, hang-time and the positioning of the fielder. In conjunction with that, Statcast™ is introducing an outfield catch ratings system that awards one to five stars to catches based on their catch probability. The most difficult catches, those made 25 percent of the time or less, get five stars. The first five-star catch of this season was the one Buxton made of a hard-hit, sinking liner to shallow left center by Alex Gordon for the final out of the top of the third inning of this game. Buxton had just 2.9 seconds to catch that ball, a catch that is made just 24 percent of the time.
Orioles 3, Blue Jays 2: Showalter uses Zach Britton in tie game, O's win in extras
The last game the Orioles played that counted was the American League Wild Card Game on Oct. 4 of last year. That game was against the Blue Jays and was tied 2-2 after eight innings. However, Baltimore manager Buck Showalter repeatedly failed to bring in shut-down closer Zach Britton to prevent the Jays from scoring a walkoff run and the Orioles lost on an 11th inning walkoff home run. On Monday in Baltimore once again against the Jays, the game was tied 2-2 after eight innings (once again) and, with the added benefit of being home, Showalter was careful not to make the same mistake twice. This time he not only brought Britton in for the ninth inning, he let him throw two innings on Opening Day. Britton held the Jays scoreless for two frames, and Baltimore won on a walkoff homer in the bottom of the 11th. Lesson learned? We'll find out the next time Showalter's team faced a walkoff situation on the road.
Phillies 4, Reds 3: Jeremy Hellickson makes history
The decisive run in this game was scored in the top of the sixth when Phillies' starting pitcher Hellickson, batting with two outs and a man on second, delivered an RBI triple that put Philadelphia up 4-1. In doing so, Hellickson, who had never tripled before in his 12-year professional career, became the first pitcher to triple on Opening Day since the Giants' Jack Sanford connected for a two-RBI triple against the Colts' Turk Farrell on Opening Day in 1963. Hellickson is also just the sixth pitcher to triple on Opening Day since 1921, when both the Reds' Dolf Luque and the Yankees' Urban Shocker did so. Hellickson's triple was a sinking liner to the opposite field that dove under the glove of a sliding Scott Schebler and lodged under the padding of the right-field wall, forcing centerfielder Billy Hamilton to run all the way over to far right field to retrieve the ball. There were just eight triples by pitchers in the entire 2016 season and just eight more in the two seasons prior to that, combined.
Dodgers 14, Padres 3: Catcher/pitcher Christian Bethancourt involved in home plate collision
One of the few intriguing things about this year's Padres is their attempt to use former Braves catching prospect Bethancourt as a two-way player, not only as a backup catcher and outfielder, but also as a righty reliever with mid-90s velocity. With the Dodgers jumping out to a 7-1 lead on San Diego starter Jhoulys Chacin, Padres manager Andy Green gave Bethancourt his first opportunity on the mound with one out and men on second and third in the bottom of the fourth inning. Bethancourt's first pitch was 94 miles per hour, but way inside and skipped past catcher Austin Hedges, resulting in a play at the plate with Bethancourt covering. The runner from third, Andrew Toles, was safe and spiked Bethancourt on the way by, resulting the catcher-turned-pitcher getting injured after his first pitch. Bethancourt stayed in the game, only to bring home the other runner with another wild pitch. Then, in the fifth, he gave up a three-run homer to Corey Seager. In total, Bethancourt retired just four of the nine men he faced, struck out no one, and saw five runs score.
Indians 8, Rangers 5: Bombs away!
Even in Texas, one would expect a pitching matchup of Corey Kluber and Yu Darvish to be a tense, low-scoring ballgame, but that was not the case on Monday. The Rangers scored all five of their runs against Kluber, taking him deep three times. Rougned Odor homered in his first two at-bats of the season, and Carlos Gomez connected for the longest Opening Day home run of the Statcast™ era with a 461-foot shot over the Jack Daniels Club in Globe Life Park's left field. Jose Ramirez, who signed a big extension at the conclusion of Spring Training, answered with hit a two-run shot off Darvish. However, Cleveland did the bulk of its damage against the Texas bullpen, with big offseason signing Edwin Encarnacion delivering a crucial blow with a game-tying solo homer off Matt Bush in the eighth. The two teams combined for five home runs. Only the 17-run Dodgers-Padres game featured more (six to be exact) among this year's Opening Day contests.
Astros 3, Mariners 0: SI cover boy George Springer hits leadoff home run
In June 2014, with Houston still mired in last place, Sports Illustrated put a picture of Astros phenom Springer hitting a long fly ball on its cover next to the headline "Your 2017 World Series Champs." So now that 2017 is here, how did the Astros open the season? With Springer hitting a leadoff home run off the Mariners' Felix Hernandez.
A's 4, Angels 2: Kris Davis is fourth player this season to hit two Opening Day homers
Davis, who was tied for third in the Majors with 42 home runs last year, became the fourth player with a pair of Opening Day home runs this year, joining Bumgarner, Odor and Yasmani Grandal and making 2017 just the fourth season since 1913 to see four players hit multiple home runs on Opening Day. Davis broke a 2-2 tie in this game with a solo shot off Angels starter Rickey Nolasco in the bottom of the sixth, then added an insurance run with a solo shot off J.C. Ramirez in the eighth. The last time four or more players had multi-homer games on Opening Day was 2005, when the Tigers Dmitri Young going deep three times against the Royals in addition to two-homer games by the Reds' Adam Dunn, the Mariners' Richie Sexson and the Padres' Xavier Nady. The record is six players in 2000, when the A's Jason Giambi and the Expos' Vladimir Guerrero both went deep twice and the Rangers and Blue Jays each had two players with two-homer games on Opening Day. With 36 home runs through the first 14 games of this season, 2017 is already ahead of 2016's near-record home run pace, with 2.57 home runs per game compared to last year's 2.31. Not that it means anything ...
Cliff Corcoran is a Sports on Earth contributor and a regular guest analyst on the MLB Network. An editor or contributor to 13 books about baseball, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he spent the last 10 seasons covering baseball for SI.com and has also written for USA Today and SB Nation, among others.