Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees

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.

Video: Adrian Beltre belts a walk-off home run on Monday against the Athletics

ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 25:  The Texas Rangers celebrate the two-run walk off homerun by Adrian Beltre #29 against the Oakland Athletics at Globe Life Park in Arlington on July 25, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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The Rangers found themselves in a 5-1 hole after three innings against the Athletics on Monday, but scratched out some runs in the middle innings. That allowed them to enter the bottom of the ninth inning trailing by only one run, 6-5, facing A’s closer Ryan Madson.

Adrian Beltre, who hit a solo home run in the seventh inning, stepped to the plate with a runner on first base and two outs. He was the Rangers’ last hope to keep the game alive. The veteran third baseman swung at Madson’s first pitch, a 96 MPH fastball, and drilled it to left-center field for a walk-off two-run home run.

Beltre now has nine walk-off home runs in his career. While the 37-year-old isn’t quite the offensive dynamo he was even two years ago, his numbers are still respectable. He’ll head into Tuesday’s action batting .281/.334/.468 with 16 home runs and 63 RBI in 392 plate appearances.

Jay Bruce: “This is such a fleeting game. It’s so unforgiving.”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 25:  Jay Bruce #32 of the Cincinnati Reds swings and watches the flight of his ball as he hits a two-run homer against the San Francisco Giants in the top of the fourth inning at AT&T Park on July 25, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Outfielder Jay Bruce was the catalyst in the Reds’ 7-5 victory over the Giants on Monday night, drilling a pair of two-run home runs. It’s good timing for the Reds, as the trade deadline is six days away. The Reds might prefer to get a prospect or two for Bruce rather than pick up his $13 million club option for 2017 or buy him out for $1 million and let him walk into free agency.

It was only a year ago that it seemed like the Reds would have to settle for next-to-nothing to get rid of Bruce. He posted career-lows across the board in 2014, including a .654 OPS and 18 home runs. He improved last season, returning to 26 home runs, but came with an uninspiring .729 OPS.

This year is another story. Bruce is currently hitting .272/.326/.564 with 23 home runs and a league-best 77 RBI. He’s on pace to set career-bests in a lot of categories if he’s able to stay healthy.

Bruce was honest about his resurgence, though, admitting that he doesn’t know why he’s so much better this year as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.

This is such a fleeting game. It’s so unforgiving. You’re never settled. You’ve never got it. You’ve never figured it out. It’s like a puzzle that never has all the pieces to it. You might get close and feel pretty good about your progress, but you never are going to have the puzzle put together.

Bruce, who welcomed a child into the world back in April, also discussed the difficulties of hearing his name bandied about in trade rumors once again.

It’s harder this year. I have a family I have to focus on now. Logistically, it’s much more intricate. I know the skit. I know how it goes. But it will be nice when it’s passed because we’ll have a plan of attack on whether my family is staying where they are in Cincinnati or elsewhere.

This is a point of view that is not often covered. This time of the year can be very difficult for players who may be traded, as they await a phone call that could send their lives into upheaval. It may mean being away from their families for three months. It means living out of a hotel room or finding a place to live on very short notice. Even Bruce’s comments about his success this year are illuminating about the mental strain of the game.

As usual, great reporting by Buchanan. His full article is worth your time.