My Sanctuaryby Bryan Smith
April 08, 2004
Hello and welcome to the wild, wacky world that we call Major League Baseball. This is the place where everything can and does happen on a daily basis. It was a long, six-month wait after one of the crazier years in baseball history, but with just one series down, it was well worth the wait. Baseball is back, and with that comes the amazing, unpredictable happenings that make all our jaws drop. Welcome to the world of Major League Baseball, a.k.a. Heaven on Earth.
One of the more interesting stories of 2003 was the plight of the Detroit Tigers and their journey to the worst record ever. The club narrowly escaped that title, and it appears 2003 was motivation enough for Detroit. Stacked up against the Wild Card contending Toronto Blue Jays in the season's first series, including AL Cy Young winner Roy Halladay in game one, Alan Trammell's boys swept. Newcomers Pudge Rodriguez, Rondell White and Jason Johnson helped the team overcome an injury to their lone All-Star, Dmitri Young.
A late-inning breakdown on Wednesday prevented Milwaukee from starting 3-0 against the Cardinals, but Scott Podsednik showed how the Brewers plan to play spoiler this year. Finally, the we've-never-won-70 games Tampa Bay Devil Rays split a four game set with the AL All-Star team formerly known as the New York Yankees.
Leading Tampa to their 2-2 start is the current major league wins leader, Devil Ray ace Victor Zambrano. After starring in my Devil Rays preview, Zambrano (the 2003 walks leader) overcame eight walks to help spark a Matthew Namee column. While Victor's rise wasn't exactly foreseen, he was just one of many pitchers who are trying to shed their past labels in the Opening Series.
Colby Lewis, the man with the AL's highest ERA in 2003 and subject of a Rangers' preview question, beat the Oakland A's and 2002 Cy Young winner Barry Zito. Shawn Estes, owner of a 5.73 ERA last season, helped his new team, the Colorado Rockies, overcome five-time Cy Young winner Randy Johnson. Finally, the one-time great prospect with three straight 92 ERA+ seasons, Paul Wilson, beat Greg Maddux and held the NL Central favorite Chicago Cubs scoreless through seven innings.
But, it hasn't been all pitching. On Wednesday, the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves had an epic war, scoring a combined 28 runs in an 18-10 Braves victory. 28 runs are 12 more than Texas and Oakland had in their entire series. The teams had 34 hits, and Atlanta had eight players with multi-hit games. New York depended on one man, catcher and home run leader Mike Piazza, to do the damage. Piazza had five hits, two home runs, and a double en route to making most fantasy baseball owners angry they hadn't taken a chance.
New York also beat Atlanta the day prior, thanks to Kaz Matsui's coming out party. The Japanese shortstop's debut was a dream, as he had three hits and two walks in his five plate appearances. He led the game off with a home run, and added in two doubles later in the game. With Jose Reyes out, Matsui is proving to be a viable leadoff hitter. In the other league, highly touted Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer was hurt in merely his second major-league game. Mauer tore catilage in his knee while chasing after a foul ball and should be back in one month's time, leaving the Twins to use Henry Blanco and Rob Bowen for four weeks.
Minnesota's rival, the Chicago White Sox, also had an interesting beginning to the season. Frank Thomas had what Baseball Primer called the at bat of the year, a 17-pitch battle with Kansas City Royals southpaw Darrell May. Thomas fouled off 12 straight balls before earning a walk on the 17th pitch, while leading the White Sox to their first victory.
It would have been the team's second win if Billy Koch and Damaso Marte hadn't given up six runs in the ninth the night before. In a move that Baseball Tonight questioned greatly, Ozzie Guillen took out Billy Koch with Matt Stairs on deck. Marte came in and Tony Pena used Mendy Lopez to pinch hit, who immediately hit a game-tying home run. Ozzie will have a microscope on him all season, not exactly what fellow ex-SS Alan Trammell faced last year.
Another early season questionable managerial decision was in Houston's debut against San Francisco on Tuesday. Roy Oswalt, in the midst of a fantastic one-run effort, was left in to face Barry Bonds, representing the tying run. Brad Lidge was ready in the bullpen, but Jimy Williams left Oswalt to give up a home run to the game's best hitter. Bonds put himself within one home run of his godfather Willie Mays for third all-time.
Bonds had the chance to hit number 660 on Wednesday, against 300-win legend Roger Clemens. After a first-inning intentional walk, Clemens dominated Bonds with two great low and away fastballs for two strikeouts. Clemens was the league's most dominating pitcher in it's first three days: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 9 K. But don't get me wrong, I don't think Bonds is going away quite yet.
Instead of Barry, there are some more unheralded hitters dominating the league. Jermaine Dye, the same man who hit just .172 in 2003, started the season off with three extra-base hits (two home runs) in just 11 at-bats. Dye looks to have overcome the leg problems that have plagued him the last two seasons, and his offense in right field is essential for an Oakland lineup desperate to score runs.
In the National League, sabermetric favorite Craig Wilson has hit two home runs in his first eight at-bats. Wilson, not even guaranteed an everyday spot by questionable manager Lloyd McClendon, continues to hit in his quest for 500 at-bats. Other surprising two home run men: Travis Hafner, Eric Munson and even Brady Clark.
But as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. While high-profile offseason acquisitions Alex Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero haven't exactly been awe-inspiring, both hit home runs during their Opening Series. Guerrero's huge blast came against Mariners right-hander Joel Pineiro, and Vlad would add two more runs after that. Rodriguez hit a home run barely over the right-center wall in Tropicana Field, but he's hardly experiencing the early season problems teammate Jason Giambi had in his first weeks with the Yankees.
Wow, 1,000 words and we're just through three games of the season. I love this game. Keep your eyes and ears open, and stay tuned in to what is going to be one great year.
References and Resources
This article could not have been written without the advent of the television, ESPN, TBS, and every other baseball-carrying channel. I want to especially thank Baseball Tonight (even with the hiring of John Kruk) for giving me every big play.
Bryan Smith, co-founder of Baseball Analysts, is a freelance writer with work appearing at SI.com, BaseballProspectus.com and Baseball America. Feel free to e-mail Bryan here, and look for his annual prospect list at SI.com next week.