It’s Heyward, Albert, Lincecum and the Bucs stop here

Heyward is number 104

While I would love to bore you with recollections from my time attending JHS 104, I would rather thrill you with the knowledge that Atlanta rookie Jason Heyward became the 104th player to homer in his first time up in the majors. After all the spring training hoopla, brouhaha, and whoop-de-do about Heyward, all he did, with his first swing in the majors is rocket the ball into the right centerfield bullpen and, in the process, announce to the world that he indeed is something special. The 20-year old Heyward hit his three-run homer off of the Cubs Carlos Zambrano, a feat that should not be trivialized by the fact that Zambrano gave up eight runs on gave up six hits and two walks in 1.1 innings, matching the shortest of 239 career starts (Pittsburgh on Sept. 4, 2006). The Braves won this game, 16-5.

The magnificent MLB Network covered his at bat live on their all-day coverage of “Baseball Tonight” (c’mon guys, consider a name change?) and it was indeed a newsworthy, history-in-the-making moment, certainly of considerably more import than Tiger Woods first shot at Augusta will be later this week. The kid has the look of greatness about him and Zambrano truly missed the point when he said, “He’s good. Anybody can be good with two balls and no strikes, but you have to give him credit.” The first two pitches to Heyward were not bad pitches, and yet this youngster, in his very plate appearances fought his nerves, and the temptation to swing, and put himself in a hitter’s position and then took that cripple pitch from the Big Z and exploded on it. Very impressive.

  • I know Opening Day is a big crowd day, but I have seen Atlanta postseason games that were not sold out and yesterday over 53,000 attended the opener. It was the fourth largest crowd in Atlanta history and the largest for a day game.
  • Derek Lowe started for the Braves and looked lousy. He gave up five runs, five hits and three walks in six innings.
  • On the other hand the six Cubs pitchers looked worse, walking eight Braves.
  • Lowe was the first of three former Red Sox pitchers to appear in the game as Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner pitched perfect innings in their Atlanta debuts.
  • The last time the Braves scored 16 runs was Sept 2, 2008.
  • The Braves scored their most runs in an Opening Day game since they were the Boston Beaneaters in 1900. That team was a gas.

2. There was only one pitcher in Washington yesterday

I don’t care what side of the political spectrum you are on (actually that’s a lie, but I’m trying to make a point here), I don’t think there has ever been a president who throws a baseball as poorly as Barack Obama. I am not saying this to mean, I’m simply stating that he appears to be clueless when tossing a ball as he did in the Opening Day yesterday in Washington. When you watch him shoots hoops as we did during the Final Four telecast on Saturday night (congrats to Duke and congrats to Butler on their valiant effort), you know the man’s got game and he’s an ath-a-lete. But when he throws a baseball you feel as if you are watching a character from “Modern Family.” This was the 100th anniversary of presidential first pitches and while I haven’t seen film of all them, I can’t imagine there were many worse. He double-clutched before oddly throwing a pitch to Nationals’ third baseman Ryan Zimmerman who was receiving it behind the plate. “It was high and outside. I was intentionally walking the guy,” Obama quipped during an appearance in the Nationals’ TV broadcast booth. “Fortunately, Zimmerman has a tall reach.” It would have been a wild pitch had Dustin Pedroia been the catcher.

Meanwhile, the Nats opening day hurler, John Lannan (0-1), wasn’t much better as he went 3.2 innings, allowing five Phillies runs and seven hits with three walks and no strikeouts in the Phils 11-1 decimation, the first of many victories thanks to the great Roy Halladay, the only pitcher at the park (excluding Nationals broadcaster Rob Dibble). Halladay (1-0) allowed one 1st inning run and six hits in seven innings.

  • In his Phillies return, Placido Polanco had three hits, including his second career grand slam, and drove in a career-high six runs.
  • Ryan Howard had a two-run home run.
  • Ivan Rodriguez made his 19th consecutive opening day start, the longest streak in the majors. He had three hits, including a pair of doubles.
  • The Nationals seven-game winning streak came to an end.

3. The trouble with the new emphasis on fielding

When I played ball I was the prototypical good-field/no-hit, too-short/bad-knee player, so it is with joy that baseball aficionados are just joining me in my glove affair. The trouble with the emphasis on fielding is that it is difficult to write about. It easy to say that in yesterday’s 6-0 win by the White Sox over the Indians that Paul Konerko hit a two-run homer in the 1st and Alex Rios hit a solo shot in the 8th. I have no trouble sharing with you that Mark Buehrle got the Sox off to a great start with seven innings of three-hit shutout ball.

But when if comes to trying to adequately describe the fielding play that will be one of the Web Gems not just for yesterday, but for the season, and I’m not talking about the diving catch Rios made to end the game, it is a struggle. Top of the 5th, Lou Marson hits a hard groundball up the middle, Buehrle, thinking he is a goalie sticks his leg out and knocked the ball into foul territory along the first base line. Buehrle runs and bending over shovels the ball with his glove, in one fell swoop, between his legs to Konerko at first who reached out with his bare hand to grab it for the out. I’m telling you, I didn’t do it justice, so take a look.

  • Buehrle started his club-record eighth opener.
  • Jake Westbrook, in his first start since May 28, 2008 after recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery, tied a club record with four wild pitches, hit Carlos Quentin twice, walked four and allowed five runs and five hits.
  • Quentin has been hit by a pitch 35 times the last two years.

4. Phat Albert, hey, hey hey!

Before we entirely transition into the Jason Heyward era, let’s remember that this is time of Albert Pujols, baseball’s greatest player. Yesterday, the Cardinals had little trouble defeating the Reds, 11-6, thanks in large part to Albert’s two homers indeed among his four hits (tying the club record for most hits on Opening Day), four runs scored and three RBI. Aaron Harang (0-1) also gave up a homer to Colby Rasmus, but was long gone by the time Yadier Molina hit a grandslam in the 9th.

  • Pujols has 34 career multi-homer games.
  • He was the last Cardinals player to hit two homers on Opening Day, in 2006 at Philadelphia.
  • Chris Carpenter (1-0) pitched six innings allowing five hits including solo homers to Joey Votto and Scott Rolen in the 4th.

5. Today’s schedule

AL

Yankees (A.J. Burnett) at Red Sox (Jon Lester), 7:10

Orioles (Kevin Millwood) at Rays (James Shields), 7:10

Twins (Nick Blackburn) at Angels (Joe Saunders), 10:05

Mariners (Ian Snell) at A’s (Dallas Braden), 10:05

NL

Giants (Barry Zito) at Astros (Wandy Rodriguez), 8:05

Rockies (Greg Smith) at Brewers (Randy Wolf), 8:10

Padres (Chris Young) at Diamondbacks (Edwin Jackson), 9:40

6. Numbers of the Day

30 different batters hit 32 homers yesterday with the Cardinals’ Albert Pujols and the Pirates Garrett Jones each hitting two. Last year in team’s opening games 38 homers were hit, tied for the second-most with 2006. So, if you add the three homers that were hit Sunday night you have 35 dingers with the Rays/Orioles opener still to come this evening. The record for first game homers was set in 1999 when 42 different players hit a total of 44 with Bernard Gilkey and Raul Mondesi each hitting a pair both in the Dodgers 8-6 win over the Diamondbacks

7. Freak me out

If this is the hitting era of Albert Pujols, it very well may be the pitching era of Tim Lincecum. As “The Freak” (1-0) begins his drive for his third straight Cy Young Award he got off on the right foot as he allowed four hits and struck out seven with no walks in the Giants 5-2 win over the Astros. Houston starter and loser Roy Oswalt (0-1) allowed seven hits and three runs in six innings as he made his eighth straight Opening Day start. Mark DeRosa homered in his Giants debut. The Giants are six-for-six ins in Lincecum’s six career starts against the Astros and Lincecum is now  34-2 in 55 starts when the Giants score at least three runs.

8. Unabashed self promotion

I feel about Brian Reich in much the same way I feel about Tim Lincecum, in fact, there is even a physical resemblance. Yesterday, Brian wrote a terrific piece in his Thinking About Media blog entitled Must-Read: Take Me Out To The Ballgame and he was kind enough to mention me. Read the piece; there is some great info in it (as always), most of it not about me.

9. I love walkoffs

What would Opening Day be without a walkoff? Or a no-hit bid? The folks in Texas got two for the price of one as Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s one out bases loaded flyball to right-center was beyond the reach of the drawn-in outfield for a game-winning single as the Rangers topped Toronto, 5-4. Earlier in the 9th, Nelson Cruz doubled off losing pitcher Blue Jays closer Jason Fraser. Jays starter, Shaun Marcom, held the Texans hitless through 6.1 innings before Vladimir Guerrero singled and Cruz hit a three-run homer.

  • Vernon Wells homered in the 1st for the Jays.
  • Adam Lind hit a solo homer and was 3 for 3 with two runs scored for Toronto.

10. Extra innings

There was way too much to write about today and I’m sorry I didn’t get to Johan Santana and the Mets win, Dan Haren’s great pitching in Arizona’s win that included Stephen Drew’s inside-the-park homer (his older brother would have been base-to-base), Chone Figgins two steals two runs scored in the Mariners win, and Hideki Matsui’s homer and three RBI in the Angels win.

One more thing…

The Bucs stop here: The first place Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers, 11-6, as Garrett Jones hit two homers in his first Opening Day in the majors. Following the game, the 1-0 Pirates announced that they have cancelled the rest of season and they have now ended their under .500 streak at 17 consecutive years.