HBT opening day wrapup

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There are over 2000 major league baseball games in a season. As such, the outcome of any one of them really doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. But we pay greater attention on opening day. Indeed, some of us sat in front of television and computer screens for, oh, 10 straight hours, and that kind of investment justifies a look back. So, opening day: what went down?

Let’s start in the Bronx, where the Yankees took on the Tigers and a guy who wasn’t even supposed to be in the lineup — Curtis Granderson — took center stage. His solo home run in the seventh inning broke a tie and ultimately proved to be the winner, with the Yankees prevailing 6-3.  But Granderson’s defense impressed every bit as much. He made a diving catch in the first inning and an over-the-shoulder grab on the run in the ninth, showing no sign of the injured oblique muscle that made him questionable for opening day until the decision was made to let him play late Wednesday. Otherwise, everything went according to plan for New York, with CC Sabathia making a strong, though by no means dominant start and the bullpen — Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano and the great Mariano Rivera — putting any hope of a Tigers comeback out of reach.

The other early start was down I-95 in Washington, where the Braves shut out the Nats, 2-0 behind 5 2/3 innings of three-hit ball from Derek Lowe and more zeros from four relievers. Jason Heyward played in his second major league opening day and hit his second major league opening day home run, a low liner that just cleared the wall in right in the second inning. Of perhaps greater significance: Chipper Jones looked healthy and spry upon his return from last year’s season-ending knee injury.  The Nats: well, they’re the Nats, and they almost always lose on opening day. It’s kind of their thing.

Heroics were the order of the day in Cincinnati where, after an ineffective Edinson Volquez welcomed the Brewers to leads of 3-0 and 4-1, the Reds chipped back, topped off by Ramon Hernandez’s three-run walk-off blast, giving the Reds a 7-6 victory. This is old hat for the Reds, of course, who started last season by notching their first six wins via final at-bat comebacks. For the Brewers it was a bullpen and defensive meltdown courtesy of Casey McGehee, who missed a tag, and Jonathan Axford, who gave up four ninth-inning runs on two hits and a walk.

Continuing our way west we had two games in Missouri, with the Cardinals taking on the Padres and the Royals facing the Angels.

In St. Louis, Albert Pujols did something he has never done before: ground into three double plays on an 0-for-5 day. This, combined with (a) Ryan Franklin blowing the save by surrendering a two-out ninth-inning home run to Cameron Maybin; and (b) a Ryan Theriot error in the 11th, allowing Chase Headley to score what proved to be the winning run, led to a dispiriting 5-3 extra-inning loss for the Cards.

In Kansas City, well, the Royals have a lineup in which it is all but required that Jeff Francoeur (a home run) and Melkey Cabrera (who reached base four times) provide the heroics. For the Angels, it all went according to plan, with Torii Hunter and Jeff Mathis homering and Jered Weaver allowing only two hits in 6 1/3 innings in the Angels’ 4-2 victory.

Opening day ended in Los Angeles, where we were treated to a fantastic pitching duel between Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw that ended in a 2-1 Dodgers victory. Kershaw was sharp, going seven innings, allowing only four hits and striking out nine on the power of a plain old nasty slider. Lincecum wasn’t as sharp — he allowed nine men to reach base — but it was his defense that betrayed him. A Miguel Tejada error allowed Matt Kemp to advance to third in the sixth inning and then an ill-advised and poorly-executed pickoff attempt by Buster Posey allowed Kemp to score, breaking a scoreless tie. The Dodgers added insurance in the bottom of the eighth when Kemp — who had stolen second base — scored on a James Loney double off Santiago Casilla. A tough-luck loss for Lincecum, who didn’t allow an earned run, but a dominant performance by Kershaw who served notice that the matter of who is the best starter in the NL West is far from settled.

Friday brings us 11 more games and, weather permitting, all 30 teams will have broken the seal on their 2011 season by the time the day is done.  Here’s hoping the action matches or exceeds today’s level of entertainment.

Aaron Judge set a new postseason strikeout record

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For a few days, it looked like Aaron Judge was finally hitting his stride in the postseason. He was still striking out at a regular clip, piling more and more strikeouts atop the 16 he racked up in the Division Series, but he was mashing, too. He engineered a three-run homer during Game 3 of the Championship Series, followed by another blast and game-tying double in Game 4. His one-out double helped pad a five-run lead in Game 5, while his 425-footer off of Brad Peacock barely made a dent during a 7-1 loss in Game 6. And then Lance McCullers‘ curveball found and fooled him, as it did five of the 14 batters it met in Game 7:

The strikeout was Judge’s first of the evening and 27th since the start of the playoffs. No other major league batter has racked up that many strikeouts in a single postseason, though Alfonso Soriano’s 26-strikeout record in 2003 comes the closest. Within that record, Judge also collected three golden sombreros (four strikeouts in a single game), narrowly avoiding the dreaded platinum sombrero (five strikeouts in a single game).

It’s an unfortunate footnote to a spectacular year for the rookie outfielder, who decimated the competition with 52 home runs and 8.2 fWAR during the regular season and was a pivotal part of the Yankees’ playoff run. Thankfully, the image of McCullers’ curveball darting just under Judge’s bat won’t be the image that sticks with us for years to come. Instead, it’ll look something like this: