SEATTLE -- Thanks to the schedule makers, we have an off-day already to reflect on the Mariners' 2-1 Opening Day win over the Indians. Here are five observations from a fascinating first game.
1. This was the best Opening Day win in the Mariners' history
I know, it's easy to forget the past and throw out bold statements about something that just happened. But ponder this:
Only two previous times in franchise history had Seattle opened a season against a team coming off a 100-plus-win season and the best record in the American League. Only twice had the Mariners faced the reigning Cy Young Award winner. And never had they faced both a 100-win team and the best returning pitcher in the same opener.
That Seattle came out of the gates with a win against a Cleveland club that went 102-60 last season and was throwing Corey Kluber at them is pretty good. Then, toss in the facts that Felix Hernandez summoned up the Felix of old, Nelson Cruz homered on the first pitch he saw and, yes, Ichiro Suzuki returned to the Mariners for a feel-good moment.
Now, top it off with 24-year-old Edwin Diaz closing out the game by striking out the final two batters with runners in scoring position to prevent all the happy from draining out of a sold-out Safeco Field in a heartbreaking second.
So yeah, it was special.
If you're wondering, the past two Cy Young Award winners the Mariners faced on Opening Day were Bartolo Colon with the Angels in 2006 and Pedro Martinez with the Red Sox in '00. Jamie Moyer wound up losing both those battles for Seattle. The two 100-plus-win teams the Mariners opened against were both the A's … and they lost in 1989 and 2003.
2. The Wolfpack certainly worked for a night
Hernandez pitched as well as possibly could be hoped with his 5 1/3 scoreless innings (83 pitches) on two hits. It was impressive in any circumstance, but more so given he'd thrown just eight innings all spring, including three in a Minor League game.
The Mariners then employed the bullpen tactic general manager Jerry Dipoto has talked about all offseason, using five relievers to soak up the last 3 2/3 innings and, voila, a "wolfpack" win. It helps that early off-days will allow relievers to recover. The real challenge will be over the course of the long season, and surely Hernandez, James Paxton and Mike Leake are going to need to pitch deeper most games to make it all work.
3. It's all in the timing
After his late start with a sore right hand, Mitch Haniger looked lost at the plate all spring. He was hitting .162 (6-for-37) with 15 strikeouts before roping a pair of doubles in the Cactus League finale.
But the 27-year-old right fielder apparently found whatever he was looking for as he carried that over to a 3-for-3 Opening Night with a double, making him now 5-for-7 in his career against Kluber. If Haniger stays healthy and takes another step forward this season, he could turn into Dipoto's best acquisition to date.
4. Magical moments for a rookie
Mike Marjama was catching a pregame bullpen session for Mike Leake about three hours before first pitch when he was told, "Hey, Mike Zunino can't go due to his sore side and you're in. And, oh yeah, you're catching Felix Hernandez for the first time in a game in your life."
"You grow up watching Felix pitch on TV and do his opening games," Marjama said. "For me to be a part of that and have the best seat In the house and, really, be a part of history, I'm really truly honored to have this kind of opportunity."
Marjama went 0-for-3 at the plate, getting robbed of a single on a great play by Francisco Lindor on one hard shot up the middle, but he handled Hernandez and the five relievers masterfully. And above all, he stayed in the game despite getting crunched in the hand by an Edwin Encarnacion swing on a catcher's interference in the second inning when Seattle's only option would have been to risk using Zunino or turn to utility man Andrew Romine behind the plate.
"I've been training 28 years of my life for this," Marjama said. "So in my mind, there was no pressure or any of that, it's just excitement and something that goes down, as of now, as the best day of my baseball career."
5. The looming question in left
Ichiro's return certainly provided goosebumps, but it'll be interesting to see how much the Mariners can run the 44-year-old out in left field. With a very limited spring, Ichiro has looked overmatched at the plate so far as he's now 0-for-12 with six strikeouts and two walks in Cactus League and the first regular-season game.
Guillermo Heredia replaced the veteran in the eighth inning for defensive purposes and manager Scott Servais is going to have to decide whether Ichiro has enough left to help win games. Otherwise, Heredia is the better option to start, unless or until the future Hall of Famer finds his timing.
It should be no surprise that left field is the one uncertainty in the Mariners' lineup. When Ichiro took the field, he became Seattle's ninth Opening Day left fielder in the past 11 years.
The revolving door has seen Raul Ibanez (2008), Endy Chavez ('09), Milton Bradley ('10-11), Mike Carp ('12), Michael Morse ('13), Dustin Ackley ('14-15), Norichika Aoki ('16), Jarrod Dyson ('17) and now Ichiro all take their turns.