The 2012 Major League Baseball season is well under way, with nine more Opening Day games scheduled for Friday to officially set all 30 clubs into constant motion. And to quote the Tigers' Jose Valverde, "The only thing that matters right now is winning."
From Valverde's shocking blown save to his teammates' walk-off recovery, from Johan Santana's scoreless comeback to J.P. Arencibia's decisive 16th-inning homer in the longest Opening Day game ever, fans were treated to the first slate of multiple games on Thursday and a reminder of all that once was good and that could be again.
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Opening Day has arrived, with high TV ratings and record attendance. In Cincinnati, fans not only enjoyed the 93rd annual Findlay Market Parade, they set a Great American Ball Park regular-season attendance record, as 42,956 watched the Reds blank the Marlins, 4-0 -- marking the second day in a row Miami was silenced.
"When you win on Opening Day, you get to continue that feeling you had all day," said Jay Bruce, who hit a moonshot to center for his first homer, backing a combined three-hitter by Reds pitchers. "You get to carry it through. It's a great day here. It's a holiday in Cincinnati."
Opening Day has arrived with a wave of dominating pitching performances. It began in Japan with Felix Hernandez's sparkling debut for the Mariners, continued with Kyle Lohse's no-hit bid on Wednesday night at Miami's new ballpark, and on Thursday featured command outings by Roy Halladay and Justin Verlander (both two-hit shutouts over eight innings), as well as Johnny Cueto, Jon Lester, Ryan Dempster, Stephen Strasburg and Santana.
"I'm still working to try to be what I used to be," Santana said, and his first start of 2012 was a pretty impressive step in that direction. The left-hander made his first appearance in more than 19 months, leaving with a no-decision but with the satisfaction of a 1-0 New York victory over Atlanta thanks to David Wright's RBI single at Citi Field.
Opening Day has arrived with unbelievable twists and turns. No one was surprised in Detroit when Verlander threw eight scoreless innings against Boston, but who could have possibly imagined that Valverde -- 49-for-49 in save opportunities last year -- would blow it? Or that Austin Jackson then would save the day?
"We won the ballgame, and that's first and foremost," Verlander said after a no-decision left him winless in five Opening Day starts. "Obviously, it's nice to get the win, but to be able to go out there and pitch eight strong and only use one bullpen guy, that's my job."
Opening Day has arrived with a quick foray into the record books. In Cleveland, Arencibia was 0-for-6 for the day when he went up to bat in the 16th. He bunted a 1-1 pitch foul. Given new life, he pounced on Jairo Asencio's hanging slider for a three-run homer to left that gave Toronto a 7-4 victory. The game eclipsed the previous longest openers -- 15 innings between Cleveland and Detroit in 1960 and 15 innings between Philadelphia and Washington in 1926.
It should be noted that Omar Vizquel, who scored on Arencibia's homer, has now scored a run in 24 consecutive seasons. The ageless wonder also played left field and first base.
Opening Day has arrived with moving ceremonies, some that created goosebumps and some that moved you to tears. The Mets honored the late Gary Carter during a pregame ceremony at Citi Field, where a home-plate-shaped sign on the outfield wall says "KID" with the number 8. The current Mets and coaching staff all wore blue practice jerseys with Carter's name and number during batting practice.
"Nice tribute," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Opening Day has arrived with laughter. If you were watching Nationals at Cubs on WGN or through the live MLB.TV stream, you witnessed one of the most interest half-innings you will ever hear or see. Cubs fan Bill Murray provided comical analysis in the broadcast booth throughout a dramatic turn of events, perhaps easing the despair for some.
"Oh, I bet that umpire feels terrible about that," Murray said after a close pitch by reliever Kerry Wood was called a ball.
As Wood loaded the bases, Murray, so mindful of the fall of 2003, said, "Kerry likes to build the drama, give these folks a thrill, he likes to build the tension."
Then Murray said to the regular WGN crew in the booth: "Guys, we should all go down on one knee."
Wood walked Jayson Werth on a full count, sending home the run that tied the score at 1 and wasted Dempster's dazzling start. The Cubs would go on to lose, 2-1.
"We'll go down on two knees for the next one," Murray said.
Opening Day has arrived with business as usual. It was Jose Bautista homering in his second consecutive Opening Day game, the first bang in his bid to become the first slugger since Babe Ruth to lead all of baseball in home runs for three consecutive seasons. It was Halladay mowing down Pittsburgh in an intrastate series, striking out eight, just the same ol' Doc.
It was not the same completion, though, as Jonathan Papelbon handled the closing honors for Halladay in this one, recording his first save for the Phillies in the 1-0 victory.
"It always feels good to win," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "Whether it's Opening Day or the last day. A win is a win."
National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw took the mound in Thursday's late game, starting for the Dodgers against the Padres at Petco Park, though illness cut his outing short after just three innings. His team went on to win, 5-3, thanks to a three-RBI game from Matt Kemp, who went 2-for-5 with a homer.