The Weekend Takeaway
Meet Madison Bumgarner, the last true Renaissance Man of Major League Baseball.
Look into the eyes of a man who fearlessly gutted a rattlesnake to rescue a baby jackrabbit, who showed up to spring training with nearly 10 quarter horses in tow, who spent his off days roping cattle in Scottsdale, who wrangled a malfunctioning team bus back on the road and, just as impressively, can muscle a home run almost as well as he delivers two-out heaters.
This was the Madison Bumgarner who showed up on Sunday afternoon, clearing the fences twice and taking a perfect game into the sixth inning. The Giants’ burly southpaw flattened the Diamondbacks’ offense through five consecutive frames, laying down seven strikeouts and retiring 15 batters on just 54 pitches.
In the top of the fifth inning, Bumgarner honed in on a Zack Greinke fastball …
… and roped it over the center field fence for his first home run of the season, putting him in the company of Joe Magrane (1988 Cardinals), Rick Rhoden (1982 Pirates), and Gary Peters (1969 White Sox), among several other Opening Day starters to go deep in the first game of the season.
In the seventh inning, well after the perfecto had been spoiled by a Jeff Mathis triple to the left-field corner, Bumgarner did it again. He squared up a fastball down the middle, this one of the Andrew Chafin variety, and deposited it in the left field bleachers to become the only starting pitcher to hit two home runs on Opening Day. It also earned him a spot among some of the franchise greats, including Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Bob Elliot, and Matt Williams, all of whom hit multiple homers for the Giants on Opening Day.
The lefty capped his outing after seven innings and 11 strikeouts and left the game tied 4-4 with the bullpen itching for a chance to redeem last season’s bungled performance. Instead, they blew through a one-run lead when Mark Melancon, former owner of a 2.50 DRA and current recipient of a four-year, $62 million contract, surrendered the game-tying and -winning runs on four consecutive hits in the ninth.
As for Bumgarner’s new record? It’s just the latest bullet point on a varied and interesting resume, one that has established, if nothing else, his ability to simultaneously surprise and confound those who face him.
Quick Hits From the Weekend
Masahiro Tanaka earned his own spot in the history books on Sunday, albeit not in quite the same fashion as Bumgarner. The 28-year-old right-hander dispensed seven runs over 2 2/3 innings, striking out three of 18 batters and marking the Yankees’ worst Opening Day performance by a starting pitcher since Mel Stottlemyre handed eight runs to the Red Sox back in 1973.
Not everything went poorly for the Yankees, certainly not to the degree that it did for the 1973 Yankees in their 15-5 defeat. Aaron Judge delivered an RBI double in the second inning, followed by productive outs from Ronald Torreyes and Chris Carter, and the bullpen set down five scoreless frames following the unraveling of their starter.
There was no catching the Rays, however. They skated to a 7-3 finish on RBI hits and home runs from Evan Longoria and Logan Morrison, polishing off their four-run lead when Gary Sanchez missed the first base bag and allowed Tim Beckham to come home to score on a Mallex Smith bunt attempt.
While the division rivalries between the Yankees-Rays and Giants-Diamondbacks fed into an undercurrent of high expectations and emotions around Opening Day, there was no more anticipated matchup than Cubs-Cardinals on Sunday night. The defending World Series champions are 13-1-9 against their Route 66 rivals in 22 season openers to date, including one 10-10 tie that was called on account of darkness in 1965.
The Cubs fielded a lineup that looked awfully similar to the one Joe Maddon trotted out during the Fall Classic, but remained remarkably quiet at the plate through the first eight innings of the game. Jon Lester worked a solid five frames, giving up one run and striking out seven batters as the Cardinals built toward a three-run lead. Matt Carpenter plated Dexter Fowler on a sac fly in the third, and Randal Grichuk added another pair of runs with a 105-mph, 391-foot moonshot off of Pedro Strop in the eighth.
Wilson Contreras evened the score in the ninth inning, carving up a Seung Hwan Oh slider to left field for a three-run homer:
— LeadingMLB ™ (@LeadingMLB) April 3, 2017
Contreras’ heroics weren’t enough to send the game to extras, though, and Mike Montgomery lost his grip on the strike zone just long enough for Grichuk to return in the bottom of the inning with a walk-off single.
Defensive Play of the Weekend
Some defensive plays are executed with the grace and poise befitting a ballerino, from the synchronized pivot of a double play to the pirouette of a third baseman snaring a line drive across the diamond. Others, meanwhile, are enacted with a little less finesse:
What to Watch on Monday
The remaining 24 teams will take the field on Monday, and there isn’t a bad seed among them. It’s the only time of the year when each team deliberately sends out its best pitcher, from 10-time Opening Day hurler Felix Hernandez and nine-timer Justin Verlander to first-timers like Rick Porcello and Gerrit Cole.
Special mention, of course, goes to the Indians as they begin their quest for another pennant. They’re the clear favorites in the AL Central this year, buoyed by an airtight bullpen and the .529 slugging percentage of newly-acquired power threat Edwin Encarnacion. On the mound: Corey Kluber, who is poised for another run at the Cy Young award after riding a 3.03 DRA and 5.7 WARP in 2016.
Facing the Indians are the Rangers and 30-year-old ace Yu Darvish. Darvish is set for the first stateside Opening Day start of his career, a fitting opening to a season where he’ll need to prove himself healthy and capable of sticking in the rotation for the long haul. The Rangers are pegged as dark horse candidates in the AL West and, if the chips fall in their favor, should provide some pushback to the Astros’ expected dominance in the division as well as the Mariners’ mid-decade resurgence.
Elsewhere in the league, the Nationals will attempt to unseat the Marlins, Ervin Santana will try to snap an eight-year Opening Day curse for Minnesota, and Clayton Kershaw will do Clayton Kershaw things to the Padres.
There are 2,427 games remaining in the regular season. You can’t go wrong with any of them. As a quintessential 1990s boy band so eloquently put it: “As long as there’ll be baseball, we’ll be comin’ back again.”