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.

STARS OF THE 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.

CHUMPS OF THE DAY
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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Dodgers activate Adrian Gonzalez

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The Dodgers have reinstated first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from the 60-day disabled list after his recovery from a herniated disc. To make room for him they have optioned Rob Segedin to Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Gonzalez last played on June 11. Since then the Dodgers have gone an astounding 46-9, with shoe-in rookie of the year candidate Cody Bellinger handling first base duties and posting a .978 OPS. When Gonzalez went down he was hitting .255/.304/.339 and only one homer in 49 games.

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of playing time he gets going forward. The Dodgers, of course, have a comfortable lead in the NL West, so they could afford to allow Gonzalez to play a good bit to see if his bat sharpens up while simultaneously giving Bellinger, who has never played more than 137 games in a season, a bit of a breather. Beyond that, though, the Dodgers ain’t broke, so it’s hard to see why anyone would want to tinker with things.

Rays activate Kevin Kiermaier

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The Tampa Bay Rays have activated outfielder Kevin Kiermaier from the 60-day disabled list.

Kiermaier, who fractured his hip in early June, is batting leadoff and playing center field in tonight’s game against the Mariners. He was just 3-for-24 on his rehab assignment, but those aren’t usually predictive of anything. He was hitting .258/.329/.408 when he went down. Getting his bat — and, more importantly, his glove — back in the lineup will boost the struggling Rays in their quest for a playoff spot.