Here are 11 best moments from Opening Day

July 25th, 2020

Opening Day delivered a bit of everything. We had dominant starts by veteran aces and eye-popping hits from dynamic rookies. We also saw a star slugger return from a two-year absence, some smiles, and the realization that the sport we love is back.

There were also some moments that made us stop and think. Social justice was a theme, as every game featured both teams holding a 200-yard black cloth along the baselines during the pregame ceremony in a statement of unity. Across the league, players wore “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts during batting practice, and we saw some take a knee during the national anthem.

When the games started, it was with a day filled with the very thing we’ve waited so long to return to. Here are 11 memorable moments from Friday’s games:

1) Biebermania
If Shane Bieber is not already a household name, he soon will be. On Opening Day, he had the Royals flailing at his knee-buckling curveball and lunging at a changeup that simply vaporized out of the strike zone.

In a performance that was both dazzling and dominant, the Indians' 25-year-old right-hander turned in a 14-strikeout six-inning gem in his first Opening Day start. (The Major League record for strikeouts on Opening Day is 15, held by Camilo Pascual of the 1960 Senators.) Bieber passed Bob Gibson and Lon Warneke for the most strikeouts without allowing a run on Opening Day in MLB history. The Royals swung and missed 21 times against Bieber, and struck out 18 times overall, the most in a nine-inning game on Opening Day.

In his last 34 regular-season starts, Bieber has allowed two earned runs or fewer 22 times. He was also the Most Valuable Player of the 2019 All-Star Game.

2) Speaking of household names, there’s Kyle Hendricks
He was one out from a complete game on Opening Day when Cubs manager David Ross walked to the mound and asked how he was feeling. Hendricks smiled and said several times: “I’m good.” OK, then.

Moments later, he got a routine grounder to finish a 103-pitch, three-hit, 3-0 shutout of the Brewers. Not one of those 103 pitches touched 90 mph, a reminder that pitching can be about more than just velocity. He became the first pitcher since Clayton Kershaw (2013) to throw an Opening Day shutout. All three Milwaukee hits were by the No. 9 hitter, shortstop Orlando Arcia. (More on him later in our program.)

3) Luis Robert and a 115.8-mph MLB debut
Were we overhyping the kid? Raising expectations to an unreasonable place? Or maybe, just maybe, was the 22-year-old White Sox outfielder -- ranked as the third-best prospect in baseball -- every bit as good as advertised? All he did on Friday was turn the first pitch he saw in the Majors into a 115.8-mph single. The White Sox had only one harder-hit batted ball in all of 2019: 117.9 by by José Abreu.

4) Céspedes for all!
Yoenis Céspedes became the first NL designated hitter to homer in the first season with a universal DH, with a seventh-inning shot that gave the Mets their only run in a 1-0 victory over the Braves. Did we mention this was his first game in more than two years and that he had become something of a distant memory to a lot of Mets fans?

To see his teammates pounding the dugout railing and celebrating wildly as Céspedes rounded the bases said plenty about a day when two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom and three relievers combined on a three-hit, 15-strikeout shutout.

5) Who brought the hand sanitizer? Do-everything Anthony Rizzo did
In times like these, we’ve all got to pull together. Here’s to you, Cubs do-it-all first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Good teammate? How about good citizen. Orlando Arcia had just rounded first base after a single. As he returned to the base, he was met by Rizzo, who pulled out a container of hand sanitizer and gave Arcia a healthy dollop. (Rizzo would later homer in the Cubs’ win. Who says nice guys finish last?)

6) Instant return for new-look Reds
No offense has been transformed more than Cincinnati’s with the free-agent additions of Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos. Also, there’s that Joey Votto guy who described his 2019 season with one word: “Awful.” Everything looked different for the Reds on Opening Day as the trio combined for six hits, including homers by Moustakas and Votto, in a 7-1 victory over the Tigers.

7) These Blue Jay kids are all right
Cavan Biggio started one three-run Toronto rally with a leadoff bunt single and highlighted another with a three-run home run. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette also had hits as the Blue Jays showed off their dazzling youth movement against Charlie Morton and the Rays. The Blue Jays had Bichette, Biggio, Guerrero and Travis Shaw batting one through four. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, it is the first time ever that four sons of big leaguers occupied the top four spots in one lineup.

8) Kyle Lewis takes JV deep
Speaking of kids, there’s your cornerstone, Mariners fans. A glimpse of a bright future. The 25-year-old, a big part of Seattle's farm system, marked his first Opening Day start with a moonshot second-inning homer off Justin Verlander that went a Statcast-projected 438 feet. It was the longest home run that Verlander has allowed since he was still on the Tigers, a 459-foot blast by Joey Gallo on Aug. 15, 2017.

9) Max Kepler once. Max Kepler twice
Last season, the Twins hit more home runs than any team ever had. All they did on Opening Day was keep on keeping on. Max Kepler hit the first pitch of the season out of the park against White Sox starter Lucas Giolito, and then an inning later, hit another one. He’s the first player in Twins history to homer in his first two at-bats of a season, and he joined Ted Kluszewski of the Angels (April 11, 1961) as the second player to homer in his team’s first two innings of the season. The Bomba Squad routed the White Sox on Friday and appears to be just getting warmed up.

10) Hosmer spoils MadBum’s D-backs debut
The Padres have been threatening to make noise in the NL West for a couple of years now, and they took a big first step by knocking around Madison Bumgarner in his first start for Arizona after signing a big free-agent contract last winter.

Eric Hosmer led the way for San Diego with a pair of bases-clearing doubles (one off of MadBum), and joined Bill Terry (1927 New York Giants) as the only first basemen to drive in six runs on Opening Day.

Fun fact per ESPN Stats and Info: Hosmer had just three fly balls of 347-plus feet all of last year against lefties (and just one HR vs. LHP). All three of his fly balls against Bumgarner on Friday were 347-plus feet.

11) A's slam door shut

And what better way to end the day than with the first walk-off win of 2020? A’s slugger Matt Olson put an exclamation point on the night with a walk-off grand slam in the 10th against the Angels after we saw the first use of the new extra-inning rule that puts an automatic runner on second base to start each frame.

After Jason Castro’s tying homer in the ninth, the Angels couldn’t capitalize on the rule in the 10th. Shohei Ohtani was MLB's first automatic runner, but he was nabbed in a rundown on a fielder’s choice. The Angels then left the bases loaded.

That’s when Olson made sure to drive in the A’s automatic runner -- and then some. The left-handed-hitting first baseman launched the first pitch from lefty reliever Hoby Milner into the seats to become the first player to hit a walk-off grand slam on Opening Day since the Mariners' Jim Presley did so in 1986, according to ESPN Stats and Info.