The stars and chumps of Opening Day

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zambrano-standard-100405.jpgIt all started with a John Lannan pitch to Jimmy Rollins around 10 a.m ET, and ended when Denard Span’s fly ball settled into Bobby Abreu’s glove about 15 hours later.

Once again, Opening Day didn’t disappoint, as there were stellar defensive plays, dramatic home runs, and dominant pitching performances. It was everything you want out of the first full day of baseball, and reminded us how much we grew to miss the game over the last six months.

Let’s take a look at the big winners and losers from Opening Day.

Albert Pujols, Cardinals:
What else is there to say about Pujols? He’s great. And if the Cincinnati Reds didn’t know that, they do now, after he goes 4-for-5 with two home runs. *That puts him on pace for 324 this season, in case you’re counting.
*This might not happen

Garrett Jones, Pirates: Anything Pujols can do, Jones can do, umm better? Well no, but it was still a fine performance for the right fielder, who was 2-for-4 with a pair of homers in a rout of the Dodgers.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Texas “Walk-off” Ranger: Poor Shaun Marcum. The Blue Jays starter had his no-hitter broken up by Vlad Guerrero in the seventh inning, then watched his lead vanish when Nelson Cruz tied it up by going opposite field off his shoe tops for a three-run blast. That all set the stage for Saltalamacchia, who completed the Rangers rally with a walk-off single over the head of a shallow outfield.

Carlos Zambrano, Cubs:
Zambrano has been throwing out lines about how he’s ready to “kick some (butt)” this season, and wants to “rock and roll.” Apparently, what he meant was that he was ready to “get his (butt) kicked” and wanted to let the Braves “party every day,” as he allowed 8 runs in 1 1/3 before hitting the showers.

Los Angeles Dodgers in general, Vicente Padilla in particular: OK so Padilla as Opening Day starter is a joke, as Clayton Kershaw is clearly the better talent. But to allow seven runs in 4 1/3 innings to the Pirates is, well, sad. The pressure is already building in L.A., as the Dodgers need to take advantage of a favorable early-season schedule.

Marvin Hudson, umpire: Hudson and his cohorts in blue didn’t have as bad a game as Zambrano, but they certainly didn’t help matters much, as Hudson gave Nate McLouth credit for a catch on a fly ball by Marlon Byrd. [Watch here]

The drop was so obvious that Aramis Ramirez didn’t even try to return to first base, and he was promptly doubled up. Luckily the call didn’t figure in the outcome.

As if to take the pressure off Hudson, the umps later blew a similar call in the A’s-Mariners game when Casey Kotchman’s fly bounced into Rajai Davis’ glove for what was ruled an out.

Royals bullpen and defense: We pity you, Zack Greinke. You do your thing, allowing two runs (only one earned, of course) in six innings. You outduel Justin Verlander and depart with a 4-2 lead, then sit and watch your team lose 8-4. Gonna be a long season buddy.

LOST IN THE SHUFFLE: Other performances you may have missed
Placido Polanco:
New Phillies third baseman goes 3-for-5 with a grand slam and 6 RBIs.

Ubaldo Jimenez: Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Johan Santana and Mark Buehrle were all strong, but you might have missed Jimenez, who struck out six and allowed one run in six innings against the Brewers. And he reportedly hit 99 mph on the gun, too.

Yunel Escobar: While Jason Heyward was amazing the masses, Braves shortstop quietly went 2-for-5 with 5 RBIs.

Carlos Gomez: Not a bad Brewers debut for the former Twin/Met, as Gomez goes 4-for-5 with a double and a homer.

Casey Kotchman: Another steal by GM Jack Zduriencik? New Mariners first baseman goes 2-for-4 with 4 RBIs, and was robbed of another hit by the umpires, err, I mean Rajai Davis.

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Photo of the Day: Colby Rasmus just wants to love on everybody

Colby Rasmus

Colby Rasmus hit a big home run last night to set off the scoring and to set the tone for the Astros.

After the game he spoke to Jeff Passan of Yahoo and voiced some nice perspective and maturity as well, acknowledging that his time and St. Louis and Toronto left him with a reputation that he’d rather not have follow him around forever, saying “I don’t want them to say Colby Rasmus was a piece of crap because he had all of this time and just wanted to be a douche. I just try to love on everybody.”

Fair. By the way, this is what Rasmus looked like either just before or just after telling reporters that he “just tries to love on everybody.”


Ready for some lovin’?

There’s no one to blame in Yankees’ loss

Joe Girardi

You’re going to boo All-Star Brett Gardner for striking out against a Cy Young contender?

You’re going to bash Alex Rodriguez for going hitless in another postseason game, three years after his last one?

Maybe you’d prefer to put it all on Masahiro Tanaka for giving up two solo homers to a lineup full of 20-homer guys?

The truth is that the Yankees were supposed to lose tonight. They were facing an outstanding left-hander with their forever-lefty-heavy lineup, and they simply didn’t have anyone pitching like an ace to set themselves up nicely for a one-game, winner-take-all showdown. The 3-0 result… well, that’s how this was supposed to go down.

It didn’t necessarily mean it would; what fun would it be if the better team always won? And the Astros might not even be a better team than the Yankees. However, the Astros with Dallas Keuchel on the mound were certainly a better team than the Yankees with whoever they picked to throw.

I just don’t see where it’s worth putting any blame tonight. Joe Girardi? He could have started John Ryan Murphy over Brian McCann against the tough lefty, but he wasn’t willing to risk Tanaka losing his comfort zone by using a backup catcher.

The front office could have added more talent, perhaps outbidding the Blue Jays for David Price or the Royals for Johnny Cueto, and set themselves up better for the postseason. However, that would have cost them Luis Severino and/or Greg Bird, both of whom went on to play key roles as the Yankees secured the wild card. Would it really have been worth it? I don’t think so.

Tanaka gave the Yankees what they should have expected. Had Keuchel’s stuff been a little off on short rest, Tanaka’s performance would have kept the Yankees in the game.

Keuchel, though, was on his game from the first pitch. The Astros bullpen might have been a bit more vulnerable, and late at-bats from Gardner, Carlos Beltran, Rodriguez and McCann definitely left something to be desired. Still, on the whole, the lack of offense was quite a team effort.

The Yankees got beat by a better team tonight.  I’m not sure the Astros would have been better in Games 2-7 in a longer series, but they had everything in their favor in this one.