Best Ever Opening Day Performances in MLB History
There is nothing quite like Opening Day to ring in spring for baseball fans. After an extended offseason, players return to the diamond and remind us of why we love this game. It’s an opportunity for teams to start fresh and on equal footing in the race to the World Series. Last year’s records are in the past and the season at hand brims with optimism. To commemorate this hopeful time of year, we’ve compiled a list of the best ever Opening Day performances in MLB history, along with one dramatic collapse for good measure.
Los Angeles Dodgers 4
San Francisco Giants 0
April 1, 2013
On Opening Day of the 2013 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers faced the rival San Francisco Giants at Dodgers Stadium. Clayton Kershaw, who would go on to win a second Cy Young award that season, took the mound for the Dodgers in a game that stands out among the lefty’s many impressive career performances as he singlehandedly earned the Dodgers the victory.
By the bottom of the eighth, Kershaw had struck out seven batters and allowed just three hits; both teams were scoreless. Kershaw then stepped up to the plate and hit a homerun off of reliever George Kontos’ 92 MPH fastball. The Dodgers came to life after that blast and scored three more to end the game with a 4-0 victory. The only other pitcher to throw a shutout and hit a homer on Opening Day was Bob Lemon, who accomplished the feat for the Cleveland Indians in 1953. An absolute shoe in on the best ever Opening Day performances in MLB history.
Seattle Mariners 4
Oakland Athletics 0
April 2, 2007
In the 2006 season, the Seattle Mariners finished last in the West division for the third straight season. Meanwhile their division rivals, the Oakland Athletics won the division and made it to the ALCS in the postseason. In 19 regular season games between Seattle and Oakland, the A’s won 17.
Suffice to say, the Mariners were major underdogs in their Opening Day matchup against the A’s. 22-year-old Felix Hernandez, who struggled with control problems the season before and finished with a 4.52 ERA and 96 earned runs, was starting for Seattle, opposite of Dan Haren. He was the youngest Opening Day pitcher the league had seen in 22 years.
What happened in the following eight innings was a hallmark underdog victory. Hernandez allowed only three hits and struck out 12. Ichiro Suzuki scored the first run in the sixth inning, and then Richie Sexson blasted a fly ball to deep centre field for a three-run homer. Relief pitcher JJ Putz capped off the splendid performance with a scoreless ninth inning, and the Mariners walked off the field as if they had just won the World Series.
Washington Senators 10
Boston Red Sox 1
April 18, 1960
Only one pitcher in MLB history has struck out 15 batters on Opening Day, and it was Camilo Pascual, a 5-foot-11 Cuban righthander, who had been with the Washington Senators since 1954. Pascual had an overhand curveball that was greatly feared in the Bigs for 18 seasons. After steadily improving from his rookie year in 1954, he was named to the All-Star team in 1959 and would earn that honour seven times through his career.
Pascual started for the Senators on Opening Day in 1960 at Griffith Stadium. The Senators were pitted against the Boston Red Sox, who finished three spots ahead of them in the American League the year prior. Pascual struck out 15 batters that day, beating the previous record of 14, as the Senators romped to a 10-1 victory.
Washington Senators 1
Philadelphia Athletics 0
April 13, 1926
Way before Pascual’s time, the Washington Senators had a Hall of Fame pitcher in Walter “The Big Train” Johnson. He pitched for the Senators from 1907 to 1927 and was the Opening Day pitcher almost every year between 1910 to 1926. His 14th Opening Day was against the Philadelphia Athletics, who he performed very well against. Johnson was 4-2 in six Opening Day games against the A’s, and he had shutouts in all four victories.
In the 1926 Opening Day, 38-year-old Johnson took to the mound, opposite of Athletics starting pitcher Eddie Rommel. He surrendered just two singles through the first four innings, but neither got past first base. Pitchers on both teams were perfect in the eighth, 10th and 11th innings as the game stretched on, going all the way to the 15th inning, at which point, three straight hits resulted in Senators’ second baseman Bucky Harris finally getting home. The shutout was tallied in Johnson’s career total of 110—a record that still stands to this day.
Arizona Diamondbacks 6
San Francisco Giants 5
April 2, 2017
The Giants saw their 2016 postseason come to an end when they squandered a save opportunity in Game 4 against the Chicago Cubs in the NL Division Series. The blunder followed a regular season where their bullpen blew 30 total saves—nine of which came after they were leading as they entered the ninth inning.
The brass shelled out the big bucks in the offseason to bring in a legitimate closer in Mark Melancon. The former Washington Nationals closer signed a four-year $62 million deal in December 2016 to take the reins in San Fran. On Opening Day of the 2017 season, the Giants faced the Arizona Diamondbacks and Melancon stepped in to relieve Madison Bumgarner in the ninth inning. Bumgarner managed to strike out 11 in seven innings and hit two homeruns—making it into the record books for being the first pitcher to hit two homers on Opening Day.
Leading 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth, the Giants sent in Melancon. He struck out the first batter, but ran into trouble from then on, allowing the Diamondbacks to score the winning run on a double and sneak away with the win.
Do you agree with our list of best ever opening day performances in MLB history? Or have we missed any out? Let us know on our Twitter profile.