The Brewers' best Opening Day games

March 31st, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- Every now and then, the ballgame itself rises to the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day. Here are the best of those instances in Brewers history, with a big assist from unofficial club historian Mario Ziino.

Note that when we say Opening Day, we mean it. That means memorable home openers like the Brewers’ National League debut in 1998 and the christening of Miller Park in 2001 will have to wait for another list because they were not Game No. 1 in a season.

1. Sixto’s walk-off slam
April 10, 1980, vs. Red Sox
The Brewers hit five home runs in the game -- two from Sixto Lezcano, who drove in six runs -- to overcome an early 3-0 deficit in a win dedicated to manager George Bamberger, who was home in Florida recovering from heart surgery. The Brewers also were missing their hitting coach, Harvey Kuenn, who was in Arizona recovering from having his right leg amputated. Buck Rodgers was the interim skipper and got a memorable win in his first of 1,559 games as a Major League manager. Rodgers still referred to the club as “Bambi’s Bombers,” even though Bambi was absent. He did make an appearance via County Stadium’s new state-of-the-art scoreboard, however.

“Sit back, enjoy the game and have a beer on me,” Bamberger told the crowd in a recorded message.

And that’s just what Lezcano did after capping one of the most memorable openers in franchise history with his second Opening Day grand slam in three years. He also hit one in an opening win over the Orioles in ‘78, and when Lezcano did it again with two outs in the ninth inning off Boston’s Dick Drago -- the same pitcher who’d served up ’s 755th and final home run four years earlier -- Lezcano was the first man in baseball history to hit slams on multiple Opening Days. A crowd of 53,313 went wild as Lezcano raised his arms over his head around first base. The Brewers had a 9-5 win to start a season of high expectations.

“I thought I was going to have a stroke,” Lezcano said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Milwaukee Journal beat writer Tom Flaherty captured the moment perfectly: “The Brewers saved their best for first,” he wrote.

Milwaukee Brewers

2. The Lo Cain leap
March 28, 2019, vs. Cardinals
There were two outs in the ninth inning of a one-run game when Cardinals pinch-hitter José Martínez made loud contact with 's 21st consecutive fastball. As the baseball sailed out toward right-center field and a sold-out crowd at Miller Park held its breath, Brewers manager Craig Counsell said something like, “Oh, no.” His precise reaction is not fit for print.

“I said a bad word. I did,” said Counsell. “I hope the kids don’t see it.”

Out in center field, had a different take.

“Not today!”

So ended the Brewers’ 50th Opening Day game since the franchise moved from Seattle, a 5-4 win over the Cardinals that ended with Cain’s leaping, homer-robbing, game-saving catch at the right-center-field wall. Cain’s catch was the marquee moment, but , and provided highlights of their own by hitting home runs -- Chacin’s the only Opening Day home run by a pitcher in club history.

3. The start of something good
April 7, 1978, vs. Orioles
The Brewers’ original Opening Day game was rained out on April 6, but it was worth the wait. Sporting new pinstriped uniforms and a new “ball-in-glove” logo that would become a classic, Bamberger's managerial debut couldn't have been planned any better. Newly acquired Larry Hisle hit his first home run for the Brewers and Lezcano connected for the first of those two Opening Day grand slams as the Brewers handled the Baltimore Orioles, 11-3, in front of 47,824 fans. So began a five-year stretch in which only the powerhouse Orioles won more regular-season games than the Brewers.

“That was really the year we started to become a contender-type team,” said reliever Bill Castro, a mainstay of the organization for decades as a player and coach. “We had a lot of fun with it both on and off the field and we really pulled for each other.”

4. One run, no hits
April 1, 2013, vs Rockies
There have been two Opening Day walk-off wins for the Brewers: The Sixto slam, and a 5-4 win over the Rockies at Miller Park in the 2013 opener. After being mostly silenced into the seventh inning by future Brewer Chacin, Milwaukee grabbed the lead for the first time, 4-3, in the bottom of the eighth inning on ’s RBI single and Aramis Ramirez’s two-run double. homered off with two outs in the ninth to force extra innings before lifted a sacrifice fly in the 10th for a victory in front of 45,781 fans. The Brewers rallied without a single hit against Rockies reliever Adam Ottavino, who hit with a pitch and, after Weeks stole second, walked Braun intentionally and Ramirez unintentionally to load the bases for Lucroy.

5. Sheets goes the distance
April 2, 2007, vs. Dodgers
limited the Dodgers to just two hits in a 7-1 win at Miller Park that represents the last time (through 2020) that a Brewers pitcher worked a complete game on Opening Day. That only happened eight times in the Brewers’ first 52 seasons as a franchise, and once in the Miller Park era (before Sheets, the last Brewer to twirl a complete game on Opening Day was in a 2000 tie with the Reds that was cut short by rain after five innings). At one point against the Dodgers, Sheets retired 14 batters in a row. J.J. Hardy collected three hits and Geoff Jenkins and Bill Hall drove in a pair of runs apiece to lead the offense.


Baseball is back
April 26, 1995, vs. White Sox
After eight months off (due to a strike), baseball was back. hit a first-inning grand slam and the Brewers crushed the White Sox, 12-3, before only 31,426 fans -- the Brewers’ smallest Opening Day turnout since 1973. It also snapped the Brewers' string of 12 straight home openers with more than 50,000 fans.