Andrew Simon and AJ Cassavell
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Opening Day has seen its share of great performances over the years. Our job was to decipher the 10 best, considering individual accomplishments and how much those contributed to the team.
Here are the top 10, going back to 1908, the first season for which data is available.
1) Walter Johnson, SP, 1926 Senators
Stat line: 15 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 9 K_Result: _Senators 1, Athletics 0
At this point, The Big Train already was approaching the end of his legendary, Hall of Fame career. He was 38 years old, had put more than 5,000 innings on his right arm and would pitch his final 18 games the next season. But some magic still remained. In the last of Johnson’s 14 Opening Day starts, he twirled one of his all-time record 110 shutouts — in a game that didn’t end until Joe Harris’ walk-off hit in the 15th inning at Griffith Stadium. The performance holds Opening Day records for Game Score (111) and Win Probability Added (1.552).
2) Clayton Kershaw, SP, 2013 Dodgers
Stat line: 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K; HR at plate_Result: _Dodgers 4, Giants 0
You know that old National League motto to “shut ’em out and hit one out”? It rang true for Kershaw on this afternoon at Dodger Stadium against the hated Giants. Beginning a season that would produce the lefty’s second NL Cy Young Award, he carried a shutout through seven innings but got no support. So Kershaw took matters into his own hands, swatting the first home run of his career, clearing the center field wall off reliever George Kontos. The Dodgers scored three more times in the inning, and Kershaw completed the shutout, needing just 94 pitches to do so. He became the first hurler in 60 years to throw a shutout and hit a homer on Opening Day.
3) Raul Mondesi, RF, 1999 Dodgers
Stat line: 4-for-5, 2 HR, BB, 6 RBIs
Result: Dodgers 8, D-backs 6
No position player has contributed more toward a season-opening victory than Mondesi, who posted a 1.056 WPA. In his final year in Los Angeles before a trade to Toronto, Mondesi began the game 2-for-3, including a single and a walk off Randy Johnson. However, the Dodgers trailed, 6-3, entering the bottom of the ninth and were down to their last out when Mondesi came to the plate against reliever Gregg Olson. Mondesi cut loose on a 3-0 pitch and launched a game-tying three-run homer. Two innings later, with two outs and a runner on base, he went deep again, this time a walk-off.
4) Jim Presley, 3B, 1986 Mariners
Stat line: 3-for-4, 2 HR, HBP, 6 RBIs_Result: _Mariners 8, Angels 4
Presley reached base in two of his first three plate appearances but it was his work over the final two innings at the Kingdome that made his day notable and jumpstarted his lone All-Star season. With the Mariners down to the final three outs, Presley launched a game-tying two-run homer to send the game to extra innings. Then, with two outs and the bases loaded in the 10th, Presley went deep again to join Milwaukee’s Sixto Lezcano (1980) as the only players with a walk-off grand slam on Opening Day.
5) Bob Feller, SP, 1940 Indians
Stat line: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 8 K_Result: _Indians 1, White Sox 0
While there have been other close calls, Feller is the only pitcher to twirl a no-hitter on Opening Day. Already a four-year veteran and two-time All-Star in 1940, Feller was still just 21 years old when he took the mound at Comiskey Park. As brilliant as he was on the mound, “Rapid Robert” could be wild as well, and indeed, he walked five in this one. Two came with two outs in the second inning to load the bases following an error, but Feller recovered for an inning-ending strikeout. His teammates gave him a run in the fourth inning, and Feller made it hold up in the first of his three career no-nos.
6) Kirk Gibson, RF, 1986 Tigers
Stat line: 4-for-4, 2 HR, 5 RBIs_Result: _Tigers 6, Red Sox 5
Two seasons later, Gibson would hit one of the most famous home runs in baseball history to help the Dodgers win the World Series. His heroics on this early-April afternoon at Tiger Stadium are not nearly so legendary, but it was a fantastic performance nonetheless. After singling in his first two at-bats and driving in a run, Gibson mashed a go-ahead two-run homer off Boston’s Bruce Hurst in the fifth inning. After the Red Sox moved back in front, Gibson launched another two-run shot in the seventh against Sammy Stewart to give the Tigers the lead for good.
7) Pete Rose, LF, 1974 Reds
Stat line: 3-for-5, 2 2B, BB, 3 R, RBI_Result: _Reds 7, Braves 6
No one lived for Opening Day quite like Rose, whose 31 hits in those games is the all-time record. And Rose never got off to a better start than he did in 1974, reaching base four times in a back-and-forth affair. His leadoff walk sparked a three-run eighth that cut the Reds’ deficit to one, and his RBI double off Phil Niekro an inning later plated George Foster to tie the score. Rose then took the game over in a way only Rose could. With two outs in the bottom of the 11th he smacked an opposite-field double off Braves reliever Buzz Capra. A few pitches later, Rose scored the game-winning run all the way from second base on a wild pitch — the ultimate hustle play from Charlie Hustle.
8) Dmitri Young, DH, 2005 Tigers
Stat line: 4-for-4, 3 HR, HBP, 5 RBIs_Result: _Tigers 11, Royals 2
Just four players have swatted three home runs on Opening Day: George Bell (1988 Blue Jays), Tuffy Rhodes (‘94 Cubs), Young and Matt Davidson (2018 White Sox). Young is the only one to do so with four hits and five RBIs. It was a dominant performance, with Young smacking a solo shot in the second and a two-run shot in the third off Kansas City starter Jose Lima, then adding an exclamation mark with another two-run blast in the eighth against reliever Mike MacDougal.
9) Bob Gibson, SP, 1967 Cardinals
Stat line: 9 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 13 K
Game result: Cardinals 6, Giants 0
This season began a run in which Gibson started on Opening Day nine straight years. He made the most of the assignment, outdueling fellow future Hall of Famer Juan Marichal while becoming one of seven pitchers to strike out at least 13 in a season opener. Gibson was ready right from the first pitch, recording Ks against each of his first five batters, including Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. He is still one of only two pitchers to strike out at least a dozen in an Opening Day shutout, setting up a season that ended with the righty earning World Series MVP honors.
10) Gee Walker, RF, 1937 Tigers
Stat line: 4-for-4, 2B, 3B, HR, 2 R
Result: Tigers 4, Indians 3
Walker helped the Tigers win the World Series in 1935, then hit .353 with 55 doubles in ‘36. On Opening Day the next year at Detroit’s Navin Field, he batted fifth behind three future Hall of Famers (Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg) and in front of another (Goose Goslin). But this was Walker’s day. Not only did he hit for the only Opening Day cycle in MLB history, but he did so in the minimum four plate appearances. Walker knocked out his list in reverse order, with a go-ahead solo homer in the second inning, a leadoff triple and game-tying run in the fourth, a double in the fifth, and a single in the seventh.