The Month That Was in Baseball: March 2019
Forget Free Agency—It’s All About the Extension Now
Long-Overdue Raises for Minor Leaguers? • Christian Yelich’s Big Start
Friday, March 1
San Francisco Giants CEO Larry Baer, in the midst of a heated argument with his wife over a cell phone, forcibly tries to remove it from her as she falls to the ground from her chair, screaming. The ugly sequence, which takes place in the middle of a public square in San Francisco, is caught on cell phone video by a witness, and it immediately goes viral on the web site of celebrity hound TMZ. Over the next few hours, Baer will release three different statements, each one less assailed by the blogosphere than the previous. His first, to the San Francisco Chronicle, says in part that his wife fell because she had “an injured foot.” The second, released through the Giants, says that he “regrettably…had a heated argument in public” and was “deeply embarrassed.” The third, released personally with his wife, says in total: “I am truly sorry for the pain that I have brought to my wife, children and to the organization. It is not reflective of the kind of a person that I aspire to be, but it happened and I will do whatever it takes to make sure that I never behave in such an inappropriate manner again.”
Major League Baseball set up its tough domestic abuse policy with offending players in mind, but it also applies to front office employees such as Baer, who until today had exhibited a PR-polished, easygoing and highly likeable persona within the Giants’ community. Baer never actually made physical contact with his wife, but his abuse in trying to wrestle a phone from her—and obliviously watching her fall to the ground—is nevertheless horrible optics, and Baer will pay the price four weeks later when MLB suspends him without pay until July 1.
There’s more bad news on the day for the Giants. Veteran outfielder Cameron Maybin, trying to lock onto the Opening Day roster, is arrested for driving under the influence in the early morning hours in Arizona. His BAC level is at .127, well above the 0.08 limit for drunk driving. The news will not be reported for another three days.
All of this, a day after the Giants finish runner-up in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes.
Maybin will be released by the Giants near the end of spring training as his batting average (.163) isn’t much higher than his BAC reading.
Saturday, March 2
In the ninth inning of a 0-0 spring training game between the Giants and Rangers, Texas pitcher Luke Farrell—son of former manager John Farrell—has his jaw fractured on a line-drive comebacker off the bat of Jalen Miller. He will undergo surgery and be out of action until at least late May.
Monday, March 4
Clayton Kershaw has made eight straight Opening Day starts for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s likely to not make a ninth. Upon arriving at spring camp, the future Hall of Famer has dealt with significant shoulder soreness, and today only begins throwing on flat ground. His chances of making any competitive appearances before the end of spring training appear slim, but he hasn’t been called for tests to see if something is really wrong—yet. The Dodgers are crossing their fingers tightly on this one; Kershaw has been the face of the franchise in the 2010s and possibly the majors’ top pitcher in a decade ready to close. He’s also beginning a renegotiated pact that will pay him $31 million over each of the next three seasons—a heady amount given his injury history of the past three years.
Tuesday, March 5
All-Star catcher Salvador Perez of the Kansas City Royals will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2019 season after a second opinion on his throwing elbow concurred with a first. Though he hit just .235 last season, Perez will unequivocally be missed by the Royals for his power (27 homers and 80 RBIs in 2018) and his sterling defense.
Just minutes before his first outing of the spring, New York Yankees ace Luis Severino experiences discomfort in his right shoulder and is a scratch for the team’s exhibition against Atlanta. The Yankees later announce that Severino—who finished 19-8 last season with a 3.39 ERA—will be shut down indefinitely and miss his anticipated Opening Day assignment.
It will be revealed shortly afterward that CC Sabathia will likely also not be available on Opening Day for the Yankees as he continues to recover from right knee surgery.
MLB reaches agreement with the Mexican League to allow players from the Triple-A-level circuit players to become eligible for major league play once they turn 25 years of age and have six years of professional experience. Any player who decides to jump to MLB under those terms will see 15% of his contract—and 35% of any signing bonus—go to his former Mexican League team.
Wednesday, March 6
Boston knuckleballer Steven Wright is handed an 80-day suspension for PED use. Like most everyone else who’s been caught with a positive test, the 33-year-old right-hander accepts the charge but pleads ignorance, stating, “We couldn’t figure out how this substance got into my body. But at the end of the day, it’s my responsibility. It falls on me.” For the record, the substance in question is peptide 2.
Wright suffers the ignominy of having been docked time for both steroid and spousal abuse; he also served a 15-game suspension in 2018 for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy.
Shunned by MLB and a fledgling Chinese circuit, top college pitcher Luke Heimlich—whose conviction for molesting a 6-year-old niece when he was 15 was uncovered by the press while playing for Oregon State—signs with the Tecolotes de los Dos Laredos of the Mexican League. Heimlich is a two-time Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year, but he went undrafted by MLB teams as they feared brutal fan and community reaction.
MLB Network’s Peter Gammons, on Twitter, reveals a curious clause in MLB’s new gambling partnership deal with MGM. Gammons says that managers must submit their lineups to MLB (instead of the media), which will in turn submit them to Vegas sportsbooks. This clause apparently ensures accurate game odds, but many are troubled by the priority given to gambling interests.
There’s also this: What if the lineups and odds have been set, and a manager makes several crucial, last-second ‘scratches’ in the possible interest of making a profit for himself, his friends or a borderline player who could use a little extra cash? It’s an improbable scenario—but trust us, we’ve seen improbable before.
Thursday, March 7
Hall-of-Fame pitcher Tom Seaver announces that he has been diagnosed with dementia and will be “retiring from public life.” The 74-year old has had several bouts with Lyme’s disease since 1991, leading to memory loss.
Friday, March 8
Former two-time All-Star pitcher Esteban Loaiza, 47, is sentenced to three years in prison for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. In addition, he will serve five years of probation and be deported back to his native Mexico upon his release.
The Yankees, which sold a majority of their YES regional sports network to 21st Century Fox in 2014, is buying it back for $3.47 billion from Disney—which bought out the Fox entertainment arm over a year ago. Although the value of YES is less than when the Yankees previous held ownership, the team plans to enter the streaming market by partnering with Amazon to allow online viewing through its web site in local markets.
Saturday, March 9
A week after signing with the Philadelphia Phillies, Bryce Harper makes his spring training debut against Toronto and walks in two plate appearances. Beyond pitching around Harper, the Blue Jays show the ultimate respect by shifting into a four-man outfield. The Phillies lose to the Blue Jays, 8-7.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays now have a legitimate excuse for keeping super-prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. from starting the season with the parent club. It’s announced that the 19-year-old Guerrero Jr. will miss at least three weeks after straining his oblique during a game the day before. It’s assumed that he’ll get rehab time in the minors and then join the Blue Jays in mid-April—conveniently right about the time the team had originally planned to call him up and allow it to get an extra year of ownership over him.
In the wake of losing Salvador Perez for the season, the Royals sign free agent catcher Martin Maldonado to a one-year deal. The 32-year-old backstop lacks quality offensive tools with a career .220 average and modest-at-best power, but is one of the game’s best defensive catchers.
Sunday, March 10
Veteran outfielder Adam Jones, a free agent after 11 years with Baltimore, inks with the Arizona Diamondbacks for one year and $3 million. The 33-year-old Jones batted .281 with the Orioles in 2018, but his 15 homers and 63 RBIs were his lowest such totals since 2008.
Monday, March 11
The Seattle Mariners aren’t expected to make a push for the postseason after purging most of its veteran talent during the offseason, but they become further handicapped when it’s learned that star third baseman Kyle Seager will undergo surgery on his hand and will not return until at least May. Seager injured himself while rolling his glove on the infield during a spring game.
Scratch one more top pitcher from Opening Day. The Atlanta Braves announce that Mike Foltynewicz won’t be ready for the season due to a sore elbow.
Tuesday, March 12
Houston pitcher Francis Martes is docked with an 80-game suspension for Clomiphene, a banned stimulant intended for infertile women. The 23-year-old Dominican pitched only sparingly in the minors last year after making 34 appearances for the Astros in 2017, as he underwent Tommy John surgery in August; fortunately for him, his suspension will take place while he continues to recover from the procedure.
Wednesday, March 13
Leroy Stanton, who was involved in one of baseball’s most famous one-sided trades, is killed at age 72 when he’s ejected from his pickup truck after it hits a tree in his native South Carolina. In 1972, the New York Mets traded the outfielder—along with Nolan Ryan and two other players—to the California Angels for third baseman Jim Fregosi. While Fregosi bombed in New York, Ryan became a Herculean ace—and Stanton also evolved into an important part of an otherwise terribly weak Angels offense; in 1975, he led the club with 14 home runs while no one else hit over six. A couple of years later, he became a charter member of the expansion Seattle Mariners and enjoyed his finest year, hitting .275 with a team-high 27 homers and 90 RBIs. Stanton’s career faded quickly thereafter, and he was out of the majors by 1979.
The Washington Nationals make a late signing and add on left-handed reliever Tony Sipp, who endured an up-and-down, five-year tenure with Houston that included two sub-2.00 ERAs and a couple others at or above the 5.00 mark. He posted a 1.86 ERA in 54 appearances with the Astros last season. Sipp’s deal is for one year and $1.25 million.
Thursday, March 14
After weeks of discussion, MLB and the players’ union agree on a series of new rules for both the upcoming 2019 season and 2020. This season, inning breaks will be reduced by five seconds for locally broadcast games (to an even two minutes), and 25 seconds for national broadcasts; mound visits will be reduced from six to five; trades of any kind will no longer be allowed after July 31, though players can be placed and claimed on outright waivers through the end of the season; and prize money for the Home Run Derby is sweetened to $2.5 million, with $1 million going to the winner. Voting for the All-Star Game will be overhauled, with two rounds; the first in which teams choose one player per position to create a list of three finalists per position—leading to a second and final round in which the fans, on one “Election Day,” vote for the starters.
The All-Star Game will also use, if necessary, the dreaded ‘automatic runner on second’ rule for each half-inning played after the ninth. Maybe that’s a better solution than just declaring a tie, but the fear is that this is just another way for MLB to get this terrible idea closer to reality for regular season games.
That terrible idea will become reality in 2020.
The most controversial rule change—forcing all pitchers to face a minimum of three batters—will be implemented in 2020. This change is not yet official, but MLB has the unilateral power to enact it—and likely will, to the chagrin of union boss Tony Clark, who says, “We did not agree to the three-batter minimum.” Pitchers will not always be subject to the minimum of three; if they enter the game with two outs and retire the first batter they face, they can be replaced before the next inning.
Social media reaction to the three-batter minimum seems to run at least 2-1 against it. We agree with the majority. The rule dilutes long-time strategies for the sake of shortening games by a few minutes—and the headaches, side effects and run-arounds that will surely result will likely lead to much controversy once implemented.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon: “Whenever you impact strategy, I don’t like that…Strategy should be left alone.” Maddon apparently speaks for many other managers and players on the subject.
Clark, on whether the union can pressure MLB to go about face on the three-batter rule: “I think there’s a lot of time between now and next year.”
Also coming in 2020 is an increase in active players per roster by one, to 26—and a major reduction in September rosters, from 40 to 28. Finally, the disabled list—which will not be referred to as the “Injured List” after complaints from people with disabilities—will be increased from 10 days to 15, a move which had previously been thought to be activated this season.
September rosters reduced by a dozen players? C’mon guys, you’re killing our Teasers concept!
Friday, March 15
Hold your breath, Phillies fans. Not even a week after suiting up for the first time after signing a $330 million megadeal with Philadelphia, Bryce Harper is hit on the foot by a 96-MPH pitch from Toronto’s Trent Thornton and crumples to the ground in pain. Harper departs the game and has X-rays taken, but they show no fracture or long-term injury. Harper thus far is 0-for-5 in 10 plate appearances for the Phillies in spring training.
In a somewhat related—and tragic—note, Phillies manager Gabe Kepler finds out that Matt Vecere, one of the fans who told him from behind the dugout about Harper at the moment he signed with Philadelphia, was one of eight Americans (and 157 overall) killed in an Ethiopian Air Lines crash earlier in the week.
Saturday, March 16
Perhaps in response to a blistering article by The Athletic’s Emily Waldon about atrocious living/working conditions of minor league ballplayers, the Toronto Blue Jays announce that they will give a 50% pay raise to all of its minor leaguers. “We hope that it allows our players to have the freedom and comfort to make some good choices, whether it’s where to live, where to eat, etc.,” said Ben Cherington, Toronto’s VP of baseball operations. “We just feel like it’s consistent with our values of trying to be a player-centered organization and give them every resource possible to be at their best.”
If MLB took just 1% of the $10.3 billion it was said to earn last season and use it toward increasing minor league salaries, it would result in an average of $16,000 per minor leaguer—in most cases, doubling their current wages. Then perhaps these people won’t have to resort to living in abandoned storefronts, or living five to a room, or hoarding skimpy pregame buffet selections so they have something to eat later that night for dinner—all examples which are detailed in Waldon’s article.
The Cleveland Indians, who could use an outfielder to strengthen an underwhelming depth chart, hire veteran Carlos Gonzalez to a minor league contract. The 33-year-old, three-time All-Star hit .276 with 16 home runs and 64 RBIs for Colorado in 2018.
Monday, March 18
Carlos Santana may no longer be with the Phillies—he was traded back to Cleveland during the offseason—but his role as an enforcer in the Philadelphia clubhouse during the 2018 season is now being revealed. Toward the end of the year, as the Phillies were down-spiraling out of the playoff picture with a nine-game losing streak—they were outscored 49-9 over the last five of those losses—Santana entered the clubhouse during a game and noticed several Phillies players wasting time on the video game Fortnite. He let them know how he felt by picking up a bat and smashing the video monitor to pieces. “We come and lose too many games, and I feel like they weren’t worried about it— weren’t respecting their teammates or coaches or the staff or the office,” Santana tells ESPN. “It’s not my personality. But I’m angry because I want to make it good.”
Tuesday, March 19
Mike Trout makes history by signing a 12-year, $432 million extension with the Los Angeles Angels that makes him the highest-paid athlete in terms of total dollars in North American pro sports history. It also easily hurdles, by $100 million, the previous record total guaranteed three weeks earlier by the Phillies to Bryce Harper. It had been rumored since the Harper deal that Trout, born near Philadelphia, would want to join him with the Phillies once his existing contract ended after 2020; but this new deal suggests that he’s quite happy in Southern California. Trout’s new contract erases the final two years of his current deal, and will last through 2030.
The Athletic’s Jayson Stark does the math and discovers that the combined dollars guaranteed to Trout, Harper, Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado this offseason—a whopping $1.32 billion—is more than the total payroll of the Tampa Bay Rays from their first year (1998) to the present day.
Though Trout is the highest-paid performer in North America by total contract, he remains behind basketball stars James Harden ($42 million) and Stephen Curry ($37.5 million) in yearly salary. And he’s far behind European soccer superstar Lionel Messi, who’s making a mind-blowing $120 million per year through 2021 with Spanish giant Barcelona.
There’s another big extension announced, though it gets lost in the news amid the Trout din. Houston third baseman Alex Bregman will receive $100 million over the next six years, the last two of which cover his entry into free agency. Bregman, who turns 25 at the end of March, finished fifth in the 2018 AL MVP vote after hitting .286 with 51 doubles, 31 home runs, 103 RBIs, 105 runs and 96 walks.
As if the Detroit Tigers’ upcoming season wasn’t already expected to all too sweet, they get this news: Michael Fulmer, possibly their best pitcher, will undergo Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow and miss the entire 2019 campaign. The right-hander won 2016 AL Rookie of the Year honors but struggled last season with a 3-12 record and 4.69 ERA.
One of baseball’s forgotten free agents finally gets some notice as two-time All-Star pitcher Gio Gonzalez gets a minor league deal with the Yankees—who may or may not use him in their starting rotation. Just two years removed from an outstanding (15-9, 2.96 ERA) season with Washington, the left-handed Gonzalez had a rocky start to 2018 with the Nationals—but his game perked back up after a late-season trade to Milwaukee, going 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA in five starts.
Wednesday, March 20
Almost nobody sees it—or perhaps even knows about it—on this side of the Pacific, but the MLB regular season starts with the first of two games between Seattle and Oakland at Japan’s Tokyo Dome. After falling behind early, the Mariners explode for five runs—four of those on a two-out grand slam by Domingo Santana—in the third inning to grab hold of a lead they will never give up, defeating the A’s 9-7. Seattle’s Tim Beckham goes 3-for-3 with a home run and scores three times; Favorite Japanese son Ichiro Suzuki is 0-for-1 with a walk before being removed halfway through.
Why couldn’t MLB convince the folks in Japan—or perhaps even itself—to make the game a matinee affair in Tokyo, therefore meaning the game could be seen at a reasonable hour (roughly around 8:00 in the evening) on the West Coast? MLB continually flubs up even the easiest opportunities to promote itself.
Eloy Jimenez, the Chicago White Sox’ top prospect, has yet to play in a regular season game—and won’t until mid-April, at least—but the White Sox think highly enough that they’re giving the 22-year-old outfielder a six-year, $43 million contract with two club options that could extend the total dollars on the deal to $75 million. In 116 games split between Double-A, Triple-A and Dominican Winter League ball over the last year, Jimenez hit .343 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs; he has just four hits in 26 spring at-bats to date.
The Tampa Bay Rays, who almost never throw money at anyone, must be in love with Brandon Lowe. The 24-year-old second baseman/outfielder, who hit .281 with 28 homers and 101 RBIs combined between 100 games in the minors and 43 as a Tampa Bay rookie last season, is given a six-year, $24 million deal; two additional option years could net him another $25 million. Lowe currently is not expected to be in the everyday lineup, but the Rays clearly see something in him they like.
Chuck Harmon, the first African-American ballplayer in Cincinnati Reds history, passes away at the age of 94. Signed by the St. Louis Browns in 1947, Harmon took seven years to finally make it to the majors when he debuted with the Reds in 1954; the road to the top was so long for Harmon, he nearly quit so he could try his hand at basketball, nearly making Red Auerbach’s Boston Celtics squad. In Cincinnati, Harmon played part-time for two seasons and then bounced around another couple of years with the Cardinals and Phillies, with uninspiring numbers playing both at third base and the outfield. He was the oldest living African-American ex-major leaguer.
Thursday, March 21
Extension mania continues with two top stars getting their just due. Paul Goldschmidt, the long-time Diamondback recently traded to St. Louis, agrees to a five-year deal widely reported at $130 million. The 31-year-old first baseman has a year left on his existing, very team-friendly deal before hitting free agency; the new deal will cover 2020-24.
Meanwhile, reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, who earlier in the month received a rather insulting $15,000 pay raise on his relatively miniscule $558,000 2018 salary, has all of that wiped out in favor of a much bigger, five-year extension worth $50 million.
The Mariners make it a two-game sweep in Tokyo with a 5-4, 12-inning victory over the A’s. But the result takes a back seat to Ichiro Suzuki, who to no one’s surprise announces beforehand that this is his last game. The 45-year-old outfielder with 3,089 career hits—all of them coming after he joined the Mariners at age 27—goes 0-for-4 before being removed in the eighth inning to a thunderous ovation from the sellout crowd.
There is no question that Suzuki will become the first Asian ballplayer to receive a plaque at Cooperstown. The question is whether he makes it in on the first ballot; most everyone believes he will.
The A’s lose more than just their first two official games of the regular season in Japan; they also lose first baseman Matt Olson for at least a month after breaking a bone in his hand on a foul tip.
Friday, March 22
Another day, another star player avoiding future free agency with a lucrative extension. Boston ace Chris Sale agrees to a five-year deal worth $145 million that will cover his 2020-24 seasons. The contract includes an opt-out clause after for 2023, when he’ll be 34.
Cincinnati second baseman Scooter Gennett suffers a severe groin pull while moving to his left to field a sharp grounder against Milwaukee in a Cactus League spring game, and will miss up to three months as a result of it. This is a big blow to the Reds and Gennett, who has averaged a .303 batting clip, 25 home runs and 95 RBIs over each of his last two seasons.
Saturday, March 23
Houston ace Justin Verlander jumps into the extension act, agreeing to a two-year extension worth $66 million with the Astros. The 35-year-old right-hander was due to become a free agent after the 2019 season, but this new pact will keep him locked in through 2021.
After being told he’s made the Texas Rangers’ Opening Day roster, veteran pitcher Jason Hammel informs the team that he’s decided to retire after talking it over with his family, for whom he’d like to spend more time with. Hammel pitched 13 years in the majors for six different teams, earning a pedestrian 96-114 record, 4.62 ERA—and a non-pedestrian $59 million, according to baseball-reference.com.
Sunday, March 24
Journeyman catcher and postseason cult hero Erik Kratz is traded by Milwaukee to San Francisco to become Buster Posey’s back-up. The Giants will become the eighth major league team that Kratz—who turns 39 in June—will have suited up for.
Monday, March 25
In yet another example that suffering an injury just before Opening Day really, really stinks, Arizona outfielder Steven Souza Jr. tears three ligaments in his left knee when he steps on home plate and unexpectedly (and awkwardly) skids off it in an exhibition game at Chase Field. Anticipated to start in right field with the hope of rebounding from a rotten 2018 campaign, Souza Jr. will have to wait until 2020 as the injury will knock him out for the whole of the upcoming season.
For Diamondbacks fans, the Souza injury will undoubtedly bring back sour memories of A.J. Pollock, who in 2016 broke his elbow sliding into home in Arizona’s last preseason game. He missed three months and has struggled to regain the All-Star form he exhibited before the injury.
Tuesday, March 26
Extension fever continues unabated. Mets ace Jacob deGrom, who was slated to become a free agent following the 2019 season, agrees to stick with New York for the next five years and $137.5 million. deGrom can make an additional $32.5 million in 2024 if the Mets pick up a sixth-year option.
Also being given extended financial security is the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks, who inks for $55.5 million from 2020-23. The deal also includes a team option of $16 million in 2024.
Never mind our opinion: The Athletic polls players and managers throughout baseball on various thoughts regarding today’s game and what they’d like to see in the near future. Among the results: The Phillies’ Bryce Harper is the game’s most overrated player, the Nationals’ Anthony Rendon is the most underrated, and the Padres’ Manny Machado is the dirtiest; the Cubs’ Joe Maddon gains love-him-or-hate-him stature by being named the manager most would love to play for—and second among those nobody wants to play for; 40% believe there has been collusion among teams, affecting free agency, while 29% believe a work stoppage is coming; 77% say no to banning the shift; 58% say no to the NL adapting the designated hitter; Chicago is the city players look most forward to visiting, while Cincinnati (not Detroit) is the one they look forward to the least.
For the second straight year, the average major league salary drops slightly—from $4.4 million to $4.36 million—while the sport’s revenues continue to make healthy gains. This is sure to be a sticking point for the union in any upcoming negotiations with MLB.
Wednesday, March 27
On the eve of Opening Day, Toronto sends 35-year-old slugger Kendrys Morales to Oakland, where he’ll be a stopgap for injured first baseman Matt Olson. In return, the Blue Jays receive a minor leaguer, cash and international slot money.
Commissioner Rob Manfred shifts away from random thoughts of silly rule changes and publicly discloses that MLB will attempt to take control of as many regional sports networks as possible, something that could be more likely if it agrees to a deal with Disney—which currently holds ownership over 22 of the networks. Though many of these networks are now profitable, the fear is that continued cord-cutting will reduce revenue streams —and MLB wants to be there to give the RSNs consistent guidance on how to leverage toward a more digital model.
While almost all RSNs will eventually be onboard with MLB’s goal, one certainly will not: The highly profitable YES Network, owned by the Yankees. It is already looking at future evolution by partnering with Amazon.
Thursday, March 28
It’s Opening Day 2019, and there’s a little bit of everything for fans to enjoy as all 30 teams get in on the action—including five shutouts, a perfecto watch and a first day-record 48 home runs.
In Washington, the day’s most highly anticipated pitching matchup doesn’t disappoint as the Mets’ Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer each reach double digits in strikeouts—only the second time in the post-1919 “live ball” era that it’s occurred on Opening Day. deGrom gathers 10 Ks over six shutout innings and is backed by a pair of runs—the first on a solo homer from Robinson Cano, in his first at-bat as a Met—to defeat Scherzer and the Nationals, 2-0. Scherzer lasts 7.2 innings—the longest outing by any pitcher on the day—and strikes out 12.
deGrom runs his streak of starts yielding three or fewer runs to 30, setting a major league record whether within one season or more. Jake Arrieta (2015-16) held the old mark; the Rays’ Ryne Stanek still has his streak intact at 29, though they’ve all been as “opener” appearances with no more than two innings thrown in any outing.
The Mets are now 38-20 in franchise history in Opening Day games—and 38-12 since 1970, after dropping their first eight openers from 1962-69.
While the Nationals are shut out in their first game without Bryce Harper, the $330 million slugger goes hitless in his regular season debut with Philadelphia—but the rest of the Phillies easily pick him up, destroying the visiting Atlanta Braves, 10-4. Rhys Hoskins’ seventh-inning grand slam shuts the door on the Braves, while Aaron Nola throws six sharp for the Phillies.
The Los Angeles Dodgers begin their defense of the NL pennant with a bludgeon, hammering a franchise-tying eight homers—including two each from Kike Hernandez and Joc Pederson—to rout the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks and Zack Greinke, 12-5. The Dodgers’ eight jacks—and the 10 overall hit in the game—are both Opening Day records; the eight allowed by Arizona establishes a team record as well.
The Dodgers also hit eight homers against Milwaukee on May 23, 2002—the same game in which Shawn Green slammed four.
It’s a most satisfying day in Milwaukee for the Brewers, although their 5-4 win over the Cardinals is a bit close to the edge. Christian Yelich hits a three-run bomb, starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin adds a solo shot of his own (his second career homer) and center fielder Lorenzo Cain saves the day in the ninth when he reaches over the top of the wall to rob Jose Martinez of a game-tying homer for the game’s final out.
In a game whose pitching billing closely rivals deGrom vs. Scherzer in Washington, Houston’s Justin Verlander easily gets the better of Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell in the Astros’ 5-1 victory at St. Petersburg before an Opening Day gathering of 25,025. George Springer homers for the third straight Opening Day—the first leadoff batter ever do so—while Verlander sparkles with seven excellent innings, allowing three hits and striking out nine. Meanwhile, Snell gives up all five Houston runs before departing after six frames; he allowed only five runs twice all of last season.
Perhaps the most unexpected pitching duel takes place in Toronto. The Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman and the Tigers’ Jordan Zimmermann each allow no hits through five innings—with Zimmermann allowing no baserunners, period. Stroman is the first to crack, allowing a two-out single in the sixth; Zimmermann’s bid for perfection is denied an inning later on a two-out infield single by Teoscar Hernandez. Both pitchers are gone by the eighth, and a scoreless duel proceeds into the 10th when the Tigers finally nail down a 2-0 win on Christin Stewart’s home run.
Zimmermann’s 6.2 perfect innings was the longest in an Opening Day start since Lefty Grove went seven frames before allowing his first baserunner for the Red Sox in 1940.
Although the game goes 10 innings, the elapsed time is just two hours and 25 minutes. Of the four other shutouts, three go exactly two hours and 18 minutes—which is sure to please time-obsessed commissioner Rob Manfred.
In the last game of the day, the defending champion Red Sox quickly take a 2-0 lead at Seattle—but Boston ace Chris Sale collapses, allowing seven runs and three homers through just three innings before getting yanked in an eventual 12-4 blowout victory for the Mariners. It’s the most runs allowed on Opening Day by a reigning World Series champ.
Friday, March 29
In just his second game in a St. Louis uniform, Paul Goldschmidt does something long-time Cardinals greats such as Rogers Hornsby, Joe Medwick, Ken Boyer and Enos Slaughter never did for St. Louis: Hit three home runs in a game. At Milwaukee, Goldschmidt belts a two-run shot in the first, then adds additional homers in the sixth and seventh inning; overall, he’s 4-for-5 with five RBIs in a 9-5 victory over the Brewers. Goldschmidt becomes the first player in major league history to have a three-homer performance within his first two games for a team.
Losing to the Cardinals isn’t the only bad news on the day for Milwaukee. Reliever Corey Knebel, dogged by a bad elbow, is told he needs to undergo Tommy John surgery; he will thus miss the entire 2019 campaign.
The Dodgers’ A.J. Pollock, another ex-Diamondback, has a pretty good day himself with four hits (including his first Los Angeles homer) in a 5-4, 13-inning loss to his former teammates at Chavez Ravine. The game crawls along and ends six hours and five minutes after it started—making it the longest regular season home game in Dodger Stadium history.
Outside of the regular season, the longest at the historic ballpark remains last year’s seven hour, 20-minute marathon in Game Three of the World Series.
As if the Dodgers need more bad PR in regards to ballpark security, an altercation after the game between two men leads to one of them being rushed to the hospital with a skull fracture; he is reported to be on life support. The assailant escapes in a white SUV before authorities can catch up to him.
It’s a mixed bag for the Los Angeles Angels, who defeat the A’s at Oakland, 6-2, behind a strong first start for new Angel Matt Harvey (six innings, two runs allowed on four hits). The bad part of the mix is news that Angels outfielder/slugger Justin Upton will miss 8-12 weeks due to a bad toe. For the A’s, six shutout innings dialed in by starter Marco Estrada is wasted by a bullpen that seldom blew leads last season. The Red Sox appear headed to a 0-2 start—and the Mariners are three outs away from starting 4-0 for the first time since 1985—when Mitch Moreland three-run homer off Hunter Strickland in the ninth lifts Boston to a 7-6 win at Seattle.
Strickland says after the game that he is all out of sorts; it will soon be determined that he’s suffering from a lat strain, and he’ll have to sit out the next two months.
Saturday, March 30
It took a whopping two games, but Bryce Harper finally cranks one out as his first homer as a Phillie travels 465 feet in the seventh inning, helping to give Philadelphia an 8-6 home victory over Atlanta. Fellow new Phillie J.T. Realmuto launches his first round-tripper as well, a two-run shot in the fifth.
On an evening in Arlington where it sounds as if the majority of the 46,238 are rooting for the visiting Cubs—who’ve also brought with them Chicago’s chilly, blustery weather—it’s the Rangers that prevail in an 8-6, comeback victory. Former Ranger Yu Darvish takes the mound for the Cubs, but is a bit off; before being pulled with two outs in the third, he walks seven and strikes out four. In fact, five Cubs pitchers combine to rack up 12 walks and 14 strikeouts. Joey Gallo’s three-run homer in the eighth against Carl Edwards Jr. puts the Rangers ahead to stay.
Offense continues to be MIA at Minnesota’s Target Field. Cleveland’s Trevor Bauer (seven innings) and the Twins’ Jake Odorizzi (six) each allow one hit, and a 1-1 tie is unknotted in the top of the ninth on a Gary Allen sac fly to give the Indians a 2-1 win. The first two games of this season represent two of three games in Target Field history in which there have been a ballpark record-low six hits between both teams.
The Brewers bounce back, keep Paul Goldschmidt (one single in four at-bats) at bay, and defeat the Cardinals at Milwaukee, 4-2. Christian Yelich homers for the third straight game to start the season, something never previously accomplished by a reigning MVP; Josh Hader throws an immaculate ninth (nine strikes, three outs) to complete the victory.
Hader’s immaculate inning is the 30th this decade; there were 64 thrown in the previous 139 years of major league ball.
The Mariners defeat the Red Sox at Seattle, 6-5, despite a horrible first start for rookie third baseman Dylan Moore, who strikes out three times, hits into a double play and commits three errors—all of them in the ninth inning. The miscues lead to three unearned Boston runs, just one short of tying the game.
The Dodgers’ offense cranks it up again with four more home runs—including two from Cody Bellinger, who drives in six runs—and the Dodgers steamroll their way to an 18-5 bashing of Arizona. Trailing 11-3 after six innings, the Diamondbacks break out the white flag and send catcher John Ryan Murphy to the mound—where he gets pummeled for seven runs. But in what’s surely more of an odd move, the Dodgers use Russell Martin, their catcher, to pitch the ninth. He throws 10 pitches, eight for strikes, and retires the side in order.
There’s obviously been a trend of position players taking the mound when their team is far behind late, but it’s bizarre when it’s the team with the big lead that’s trying to preserve its bullpen. Martin’s appearance is pitcher is the first by a position player trying to wrap up a nine-inning win since Willie Smith in 1963 for the Detroit Tigers.
Sunday, March 31
The Brewers’ Christian Yelich ties a major league record held by five other players when he goes deep for the fourth straight game to start a season. Yelich’s first-inning solo homer is not his biggest moment of the game; that occurs in the ninth, when his two-run double gives Milwaukee a come-from-behind 5-4 home victory over the Cardinals.
White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito, who posted the majors’ worst ERA (6.13) among those throwing 162 or more innings last season, takes a no-hitter into the seventh inning of his first 2019 start before the Royals’ Alex Gordon breaks it up with one out. Giolito still gets the win, a 6-3 Chicago victory at Kansas City behind Yonder Alonso’s three RBIs.
For the second straight day, a former Rangers/current Cubs pitcher struggles against his old mates as Cole Hamels surrenders five runs over five innings; after his departure, the game continues in wild back-and-forth action, finally determined in the bottom of the ninth when Pedro Strop’s wild pitch brings home Joey Gallo to give the Rangers an 11-10 victory at Arlington.
The last day of the month ends fittingly with one more big extension, as Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts signs to stay on with the Red Sox for seven years and $132 million. The new deal begins immediately; it includes an opt-out clause for 2023 and a team option of $20 million in 2026.
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