I was warned in advance that if this game recap — the first Opening Day assignment of my tenure here at LGT — was not good, we’d have to shut down the site and our managing editor would be forced to sell his yacht. I can’t have that on my conscience. So here goes nothing...
It was a quiet evening at Progressive Field, not only because the stands were empty save for a collection of cardboard cutouts that included Slider, Jim Thome, and Nicolas Cage, but because neither lineup seemed to have picked up a bat since the league went on hiatus 134 days ago. Fortunately, the Cleveland Indians were the first team to figure out which end of the bat to swing with, scratching across a couple runs to defeat the Kansas City Royals on Opening Day.
Shane Bieber certainly did his part in the Tribe’s 2-0 season-opening triumph, breaking a club record for Opening Day strikeouts with 14. Making the first Opening Day start of his career, Bieber looked like a seasoned veteran, scattering four hits over six shutout innings. Everything was working for him, including his change-up, but Bieber’s command of his four-seam fastball (14 called strikes) and knuckle curve (13 swinging strikes) was unreal.
The previous club record holder for Opening Day strikeouts was Gary Bell, who needed 10.1 innings to fan 12 batters on Opening Day in 1960. Bieber’s 14 strikeouts were one shy of the major league record for Opening Day (a record that was also set in 1960).
Royals starter Danny Duffy, who boasted a ghastly 5.48 career ERA against the Indians prior to this game, cruised through the first four innings against a Cleveland lineup that was uncharacteristically aggressive early in at-bats. At the end of the first four frames, the southpaw had retired nine consecutive batters while pitching a two-hit shutout.
Oddly — or what could be a common occurrence in this abbreviated season — Royals manager Mike Matheny opted to pull Duffy at the first sign of trouble. Said trouble brewed in the fifth inning, when Duffy gave Jordan Luplow a free pass with a fastball to the shoulder and then surrendered a one-out single to Roberto Pérez to put runners at the corners.
Scott Barlow took the mound in relief of Duffy but thankfully did not provide the Royals with much of it, allowing Oscar Mercado to break the game open with an RBI single up the middle for a 1-0 lead. On the very next pitch, César Hernández sliced a liner down the third base line to score Pérez and give the Tribe a two-run advantage over Kansas City.
Adam Cimber pitched a scoreless seventh, Nick Wittgren preserved the shutout in the eighth, and Brad Hand managed to take care of business in the ninth to close it out despite his fastball topping out at 90 mph. Nothing to be concerned about, I tell myself.
Odds and ends from Opening Day:
- Francisco Lindor was 0-for-4 and the only member of the starting lineup to not reach base, all but diminishing any trade value he may have once had. If the Indians’ front office is smart, they’ll buy low and sign him to an extension in the next 24 hours.
- Bieber struck out eight of the nine batters in the Royals’ starting lineup. The only one to avoid getting rung up was Whit Merrifield. Good for him.
- I think MLB really needs to reconsider what constitutes “hit by pitch.”
- José Ramírez’s first at-bat was a double off the wall in left. Baseball is officially back.