And they’re off with the crack of the bat!

MLB’s quadrennial miniseries in the Tokyo Dome ushered in another championship season and ended the soul-crushing 5-month box-score drought. When Brandon McCarthy put the first pitch over, and Chone Figgins bounced out to short on the next offering, we felt at once the comfort that baseball was back, same as it ever was.

Seattle beat Oakland 3-1 in 11 innings, capturing their 6th straight opener, thanks in large part — as usual in these circumstances — to Felix Hernandez, who held the A’s to a lone tally over 8 frames. It’s the 3rd time since 2007 that he’s gone 8+ IP on Opening Day; all other pitchers have combined for 4 such OD starts in that span.

Dustin Ackley did the heaviest lifting of the timber. Twice he broke ties, with a HR in the 4th and a knock in the 11th; he also swiped second and scored the insurance run on Ichiro’s 4th hit.

Let’s see if we can get a salad out of these first numeric fruits:

  • It’s King Felix on Opening Day for sure: 5 starts, all QS, totaling 39.2 IP, 6 runs on 21 hits, 11 walks and 33 Ks. The 5 hits he allowed this time matched his OD high.

For McCarthy (7 IP, 1 R), not winning a game like this was deja vu all over again. Last year, in 10 starts allowing 2 runs or less in 6+ IP, he went 5-3 with 2 no-decisions.

  • McCarthy’s 4.92 SO/BB ratio last year ranked 4th among qualifiers. The rest of the top 10 in that category, which includes both 2011 CYA winners and 3 former winners, went a combined 152-69, winning 54% of their starts. McCarthy went 9-9, winning 36% of his starts.

In 11 Opening Day games (he missed 2009), Ichiro is now 17 for 47 (.362) — all singles.

  • There were no walks in the 11-inning contest. The last game in which both teams pitched 10+ innings with no free passes was a 2002 affair between Seattle and Toronto.

In the past 6 years, the Mariners have been last in the AL in walks drawn 4 times and next-to-last in the others; the same goes for OBP. In that span, compared to the league leaders in hits and walks, Seattle has averaged -168 hits and -241 walks. Last year, when drawing 2 walks or fewer, they went 26-61; with 3 or more BBs, they were 41-34.

  • With 9 hits in 11 innings, Seattle continued a worrisome trend from last year, when they had fewer hits than innings played in 101 games, the most of any team in either league. Their 9-for-39 showing in the 2012 opener computes to a .231 average, almost matching 2011’s grisly .233. (And before you cry “park factor!”, know that the 2011 M’s were also last in OPS+ at 82.)

In his first official game of North American(?) professional baseball, Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes had a double and a HBP in 4 trips, striking out the other 2 times. Jesus Montero, the DH, went 0-4 in his first game for Seattle, but put the ball in play each time.

  • Collin Cowgill, acquired in the Trevor Cahill trade, made his first A’s appearance as a pinch-runner in the last of the 10th — and was promptly caught stealing. As of now, Cowgill is just the 2nd player in AL history with no PAs but 1 or more CS. (He just needs 17 more CS to pass Herb Washington….)

Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen got the win with 2 perfect innings. The 28-year-old almost lost his career to marijuana (and our peculiar policies about it), but made it to the majors last year and had a 3.31 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 33 IP.

  • The attendance of 44,227 was the largest for an A’s “home” game since their last game in the Tokyo Dome, four years ago. The seating capacity of Oakland’s Coliseum was reduced to about 36,000 back in 2006.

OK, who’s up next?


And they’re off with the crack of the bat! — 29 Comments

  1. Re: Collin Cowgill

    Another odd career line for an AL player is Hap Ward of the Tigers. He played just one game (one of the amateur replacements for that one 1912 game, if I have the date right – it was May 18).

    Anyway, Ward had 2 PA in that one game, but 3 outs. Two of the outs were on strikeouts and the third on a CS. Evidently, he must have reached base on a dropped third strike (or, there was a scoring error).

  2. If my quickie research is right, Cespedes joins Tarrik Brock and Danny Young as the only players to ever make their official Major League debut in a game in Japan. Yoenis is probably hoping for a slightly longer career than either of those two ex-Cubs had….

  3. I wonder if most MLB fans even know that the season has already kicked off? MLB seems to have done an extra poor job around this swing through Japan, a game/series in which Ichiro returned to Japan for the first time in eleven years to play a baseball game, and Cespedes made his MLB debut.

    Meanwhile, the rest of the MLB teams don’t play a game for real for another week.

    • I totally agree Mike D…

      Of course, looking at the lineups of these two teams, one could say that “Major” League Baseball has not started yet.

    • Yeah, it has been strangely under-reported. I wasn’t aware, or had actually forgotten, that they were starting a week early until a few days ago.

      Still, I’m on a night shift sleeping schedule so I’m actually looking forward to the game at 5am and catching a few innings.

    • At least one online sports media outlet (Fox Sports) has lumped in the scores from these two games with that day’s spring training games.

      Also, Sean Forman apologetically noted on the B-Ref update blog, that B-Ref won’t start its updating “season” until the April opening days. Totally understandable, really.

      Thanks to John A. for giving us an entire update on the first game!

  4. I work nights as well… which makes me look forward to the late and great posts by Mr. Autin. It took me a little while to get over here to High Heat (I have spent my time staring in the spot on BB-R where the blog used to be)but now that I am here, I hope to stay.

  5. Yeah, it took me awhile to find the new site, also. Wow, it’s amazing how quiet it is in the Japanese ballparks. It’s reminiscent of watching a game at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, without the one really loud guy you could hear over the dull hum of the crowd.

    • That big opening helped propel Kuhel to a career-high 135 OPS+ in his age-39 season. (He turned 39 on June 6.) That’s the 6th-best OPS+ ever by a qualifying 39-year-old.

      (And the fact that a .285 BA, 2 HRs and .400 SLG computes to a 135 OPS+ tells you all you need to know about the offensive context of 1945.)

  6. I was not aware there were games even being played. Oops.

    But John A. is in mid-season form with such a great recap. Thanks!

  7. Let’s see: At least 11 full innings, fewer than five total runs scored in the game, opening day for both teams. So far as I can tell, the only previous games in the last 30 years to meet those critera were Mets over Phillies, 1-0, in 14 innings on March 31, 1998 and Mariners over White Sox, 3-2 in 12 innings on March 31, 1996.

    There were three such Opening Day games in 1966 alone, but only six such games (including yesterday’s) since then.

  8. In reply to 8 and 9: Bobby Estalella, whose grandson played later, is another interesting player in this particular 1945 game. At center field he went 3 for 4 with a home run on his way to being the best player by far for the A’s that year—OPS+ of 144—on a team that lost 98 games. He was apparently released before the next season. Bill James has pertinent comments about him being too black in appearance—he was Cuban—and only tolerated because of the shortage of wartime players. His minor league record before, during, and after his several major league trials is impressive to say the least.

    Incidentally, without Estalella the 1946 A’s lost 105 games, although, to be fair, the outfield put up good numbers.

    James also suggests that Estalella was viewed as lazy somehow for taking walks. Can’t always agree with Saint James. Estalella’s 74 total was ninth in the league. Convenient excuse, maybe? Or was Connie Mack that far into his dotage?

    • Excellent observations.

      FWIW, the B-R Bullpen says that Estalella jumped to the Mexican League in ’46 and was put on MLB’s restricted list.

      Among retired players with 2,000 to 4,000 PAs in the majors, Estalella’s 128 OPS+ ranks 18th, tied with Dale Alexander. The man could hit.

      • A belated response.

        The Mexican League thing seems not quite right, but I’ve never understood it. Estalella was back in the minors in 1948, but the legal confrontation that finally made Happy Chandler back down didn’t come until 1949, according to that unimpeachable source, Wikipedia. Maybe it was because Estalella was released and had no contract? Does anyone have a handle on exceptions, other than the Vern Stephens one?

    • “Estalella was viewed as lazy somehow for taking walks” – baseball people said the same thing about Roy Cullenbine when he was active (117 BBs/162 games, .408 OBA).

      • As I recall, the owner of the Brown’s said something about that when they traded him to the Senators (along with another player) after his huge 1941 season where he had a line of 317/452/465 and an OPS+ of 139. They trade Cullenbine and another player for Mike Chartak (who hit .237 in 1942, the second highest batting average of his career and had an career average going into the season of .133) and pitcher Steve Sundra, who had a great season for the Yankees in 1939 and a good season for the Browns in 1943 but was total crap before, in-between and after those years (to be fair, he was in the military during most of ’44 & all of ’45.

  9. Opening day was Ichiro 47th 4-hit game! That seems like a lot for only 11 seasons. The true leader must be Ty Cobb with at least 100, he had 42 from 1919 on, the searchable PI era. The known list looks like:

    73 3562 Rose
    67 3026 Musial
    62 2683 Molitor
    62 2440 Boggs
    61 2549 P Waner
    61 2707 Brett
    60 2215 A Simmons
    59 2008 Manush
    58 2323 Gehringer
    58 2649 Carew
    56 2055 Sisler (incomplete)
    55 2404 S Rice
    53 2164 Gehrig
    51 1984 Medwick
    49 2147 Heilmann
    49 3298 Aaron
    47 1721 Terry
    47 1783 Puckett
    47 2344 Clemente
    47 1750 Ichiro

    The best rates are:
    Games/4 hit game
    34.03 Manush
    36.62 Terry
    36.70 Sisler
    36.92 A Simmons
    37.23 Ichiro

    • I checked down to Carew.

      Through first 11 seasons:
      – Al Simmons, 50
      – Wade Boggs, 50
      – Stan Musial, 48
      – Heinie Manush, 47
      – Pete Rose, 46
      – Ichiro, 46
      – Paul Waner, 44
      – George Brett, 42
      – Charlie Gehringer, 39
      – Rod Carew, 37

      • Batting averages for those 4-hit games:

        – .854, P.Waner
        – .836, Musial
        – .833, Manush
        – .808, Rose
        – .806, Simmons
        – .799, Boggs
        – .799, Ichiro
        – .793, Brett
        – .785, Gehringer
        – .785, Carew

        Here’s why I looked that up: Seeing Brett on Doug’s list surprised me a little, since 1973-83 was an average scoring era (at best) and Brett rarely hit in the top 2 spots in the order, hence fewer chances at 5+ times up in a game. So I figured his BA in his 4-hit games would be at or near the top of the list.

        Wrong again, Johno! If there’s any correlation at all to those averages, I’d guess that it is to the player’s overall BA in those seasons. Waner hit .348 in his first 11 years, Musial .346; Brett hit .316.

          • 11 of Brett’s 42 4-hit games in his first 11 years went extra innings.

            By contrast, just 2 of Waner’s 44 such games went extra frames.

            Well done, Richard!

  10. Guess who reached base safely the most times in his first 11 years? Hint, hint: He’s an active RHB.

    (BTW, Ichiro is #1 by far in hits for the first 11 years, but #7 in times on base.)

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