Ahh, Opening Day. It may not be an officially holiday, but it’s certainly celebrated like one by baseball fans around the country. The Dodgers and Diamondbacks opened up their seasons with a pair of games in Australia last weekend and LA opened their stateside season Sunday night, but the majority of teams officially began play today. The Bucs and Cubs began their seasons against one another for the third time in four seasons, and it was a beautiful day for some baseball at PNC Park.
Francisco Liriano got the nod for Opening Day and faced off against Jeff Samardzija, who became the first pitcher to make multiple OD starts at PNC Park (Pirates included.) The festivities began with the 2013 award winners receiving their hardware from some prior winners. Jim Leyland presented Clint Hurdle with his Manager of the Year award, Jack Wilson presented Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen with their Silver Sluggers, and Dick Groat and Barry Bonds (who got a mix of cheers and jeers) handed Cutch his MVP award. The teams lined up for introductions, Cutch’s mom killed the national anthem once again, and it was time for baseball to return to Pittsburgh.
Offensively, it was a mostly uneventful day. Liriano struck out 10 Cubs in 6 innings, and Samardzija cruised through 7 innings himself. Emilio Bonifacio was a pest at the plate, picking up 4 of Chicago’s 6 hits. Each team had a few baserunners in the first three innings, but neither could get much going. The first real action came in the 5th when the first two Cubs reached base. Samardzija laid down a bunt, but Liriano made a nice play to scoop it up and throw to third for what would be a 1-5-4 double play. The play at first was originally ruled an out and was challenged by Cubs manager Rick Renteria for what would be the first official replay review under the new MLB replay system. The call stood, and Liriano worked himself out of what could have been a rough inning. The only real scoring opportunity the Bucs had was in the 6th when Starling Marte doubled to lead off the inning. Cutch later walked, but Pedro grounded into an inning-ending double play.
After the starters exited, the bullpens traded scoreless innings. Mark Melancon surrendered a leadoff double, but was able to work around it and keep the game scoreless. Both halves of the 9th began with a walk, but neither team could take advantage. Jason Grilli looked very good, mid-90′s velocity. He was apparently in the low-90′s in his last few spring appearances, so it was nice to see 94 on the gun. Bryan Morris entered for the 10th, and Bonifacio picked up his fourth hit of the day with one out. Morris threw over and looked to have caught the runner leaning, but he was called safe. Hurdle challenged the call, and won, which certainly helped Morris escape any potential trouble. Carlos Villanueva came in for the bottom of the inning, but he wouldn’t last long. Neil Walker sent a 3-2 pitch high over the right field wall for a walk-off home run – the first of his career. What a way to begin the 2014 season.
Check out Neil’s bomb…
…and also be sure to listen to Greg Brown’s radio call.
Overall, it was a nice day at the park. Francisco Liriano didn’t appear to have his best stuff (60 strikes, 44 balls), but still struck out 10 and will only improve from here. The offense faltered a bit, but Samardzija is a very good pitcher and the bats tend to heat with the weather. The pitchers always seem to be at an advantage early in the season, with the bats picking up as the year goes along. Can’t wait for what’s to come in the 2014 campaign.
Jim over at North Side Notch is trying out something interesting. He’s putting together tweets to compile a “tweetcap” that tells the story of what happened during the game. Twitter can be very entertaining while watching baseball, and emotional rollercoaster that is a Pittsburgh Pirates game is always fun to follow through tweets. This should be a cool project throughout the season.
We’re looking forward to our third season of blogging/tweeting/sharing our thoughts on the internet.
Pirates (1-0) – Cubs (0-1)
Win: Morris (1-0)
Loss: Villanueva (0-1)