A memorable Opening Day start for every team
Each season, only a select group of pitchers gets the honor of starting on Opening Day, taking the ball for their teams with a chance to set the tone for the months ahead.
While many of these outings fade into history, others stand the test of time. So as we celebrate the announcement of the 2023 Opening Day starters, here is a look back at a particularly memorable example from each of the 30 teams. These are performances that not only feature strong numbers but also carry some larger significance.
An honorable mention is also listed for each club.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Jack Morris (April 6, 1992 at Tigers)
CG, 9 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 7 K (4-2 win)
After 14 seasons in Detroit, Morris signed with the Twins in 1991 -- a season that ended quite memorably for both parties. The Hall of Fame righty moved on to Toronto in '92, joining a franchise that was still looking for a championship of its own after suffering three ALCS defeats over the previous seven years. Signed in part for his winning reputation, Morris got the Opening Day call back at his old stomping grounds, Tiger Stadium. Only two solo homers in the ninth inning kept him from a shutout, and the win set the tone for the ‘92 Blue Jays, who went 96-66 behind Morris (21-6) before an October triumph that culminated in the World Series against Atlanta.
HM -- Roy Halladay (2005 at TB): 7 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 7 K (5-2 win)
Orioles: Rick Sutcliffe (April 6, 1992 vs. Cleveland)
CG, 9 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K
With Oriole Park at Camden Yards making its grand debut, the Opening Day start went to Sutcliffe, a veteran right-hander who joined the O’s as a free agent after five seasons with the Dodgers, three with Cleveland and eight with the Cubs. Although Baltimore’s gorgeous new park was the main attraction, Sutcliffe wasn’t too shabby himself. The 35-year-old held Cleveland to five hits, all singles, in a shutout. Sutcliffe also tossed a shutout in his second start at Camden Yards 11 days later against Detroit, though he’d finish 1992 with a 16-15 record and a 4.47 ERA over 237 1/3 innings.
HM -- Jim Palmer (1975 at DET): CG, 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K (10-0 win)
Rays: James Shields (March 31, 2008 at Orioles)
7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 2 K (6-2 win)
Before Shields earned his “Big Game James” moniker, he was a budding ace behind Scott Kazmir. After signing a four-year, $11.25 million contract prior to the start of 2008, Shields started the season strong when, after an injury to Kazmir, he made his first career Opening Day start and delivered seven strong innings. In total, Shields finished 2008 with a 3.56 ERA in 215 innings (his second straight year crossing the 215-inning plateau) on a Rays team that made a surprising run to the World Series.
HM -- Tyler Glasnow (2021 at MIA): 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K (1-0 win)
Red Sox: Pedro Martinez (April 4, 2000 at Mariners)
7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 11 K (2-0 win)
In 1999, Martinez put together an incredible season, going 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA en route to a unanimous AL Cy Young Award selection. Somehow, he managed to one-up himself in 2000, as he finished the season with a league-leading 1.74 ERA -- he had an ERA of 0.99 in the middle of June -- to go along with four shutouts and 284 strikeouts. Those stats helped him win his second straight Cy. Eleven of those strikeouts came on Opening Day, when Martinez tore through the Mariners' lineup.
HM -- Lefty Grove (1940 at WSH): 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K (1-0 win)
Yankees: Slow Joe Doyle (April 14, 1908 vs. Philadelphia Athletics)
CG, 12 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 1 HBP, 3 K (1-0 win)
Here’s the list of players since 1901 to throw 12-plus shutout innings as an Opening Day starter: Hall of Famer Walter Johnson (twice), Kaiser Wilhelm and Doyle, who put together the start of his life in the first outing of his third season. Doyle and Athletics starter Nick Carter put on a pitchers’ duel for the ages, with each one going the distance in New York’s 1-0, 12-inning win. However, this performance did not set the stage for big things to come for the franchise then known as the Highlanders. Doyle himself only made three more starts that year due to injury, while New York went on to finish 51-103-1 -- still, the most losses in a season in franchise history.
HM -- Whitey Ford (1955 vs. WSH): 9 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 5 BB, 8 K (19-1 win)
Cleveland: Bob Feller (April 16, 1940 at White Sox)
CG, 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 8 K (1-0 win)
The 1939 season marked a breakout for the youthful Feller, who led the AL in wins (24), complete games (24) and innings (296 2/3) and the Majors in strikeouts (246) while posting a 2.85 ERA at the age of 20. He made his first Opening Day start that year and tossed a complete-game three-hitter in a 5-1 win over the Tigers. “Rapid Robert” managed to top himself one year later against the White Sox, tossing the first and only Opening Day no-hitter in AL/NL history. It was the first of three career no-hitters for Feller, who won the AL pitching Triple Crown in 1940 with 27 wins, a 2.61 ERA and 261 K’s over 320 1/3 innings, completing 31 of his 37 starts.
HM -- Shane Bieber (2020 vs. KC): 6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 14 K (2-0 win)
Royals: Edinson Vólquez (April 3, 2016 vs. Mets)
6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K (4-3 win)
Roughly five months after the Royals edged the Mets in five games for the second World Series win in franchise history, the two teams faced off in a rematch, and the Royals turned to Vólquez, who had also thrown six strong innings in that championship clincher. Vólquez was even sharper to kick off the 2016 season. Facing off against New York’s Matt Harvey -- who also started against Vólquez in both Games 1 and 5 of the 2015 Fall Classic -- Vólquez allowed two hits in six shutout innings. This is both the only time in MLB history that the two teams that played in a World Series faced off during the next season’s Opening Day, and the only time that the two starting pitchers from the final game of a World Series faced off during the next season’s Opening Day (regardless of whether they had changed teams in the offseason).
HM -- Bud Black (1985 vs. TOR): 7.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K (2-1 win)
Tigers: Justin Verlander (April 5, 2012 vs. Red Sox)
8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K (3-2 win)
Long before Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer reunited this offseason, they were teammates in Detroit, including the 2012 team that won the AL pennant before being swept by the Giants in the World Series. That year’s star-studded rotation also featured the likes of Rick Porcello, Doug Fister, and Aníbal Sánchez, but Opening Day was notoriously Verlander’s property -- and this game showed why. Fresh off his first career Cy Young Award in the 2011 season, Verlander picked up right where he left off, shredding a deep Boston lineup that featured Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Adrián González to the tune of eight shutout innings. Verlander actually didn’t get the win due to a Jose Valverde blown save, but he still outdueled Jon Lester in Detroit’s 3-2 win.
HM -- Denny McLain (1969 vs. CLE): 9 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K (6-2 win)
Twins: Pedro Ramos (April 11, 1961 at Yankees)
CG, 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K (6-0 win)
One year earlier, Camilo Pascual had set a still-standing Opening Day record with 15 strikeouts against the Red Sox. That was the final opener for the Washington Senators, who relocated from D.C. to Minnesota in 1961 and tabbed Ramos to start against the high-powered Bronx Bombers at Yankee Stadium. While this would be a big year for New York, with Roger Maris breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record and the Bronx Bombers winning the first of two straight titles, the club was stymied by Ramos on Opening Day. Although he led the AL in losses every year from 1958-60 and would do so again in 1961, Ramos held the high-powered Yanks to three hits in a complete-game shutout.
HM -- Walter Johnson (1926 vs. PHA): CG, 15 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 9 K (1-0 win)
^For Washington Senators
White Sox: Mark Buehrle (April 4, 2005 vs. Cleveland)
8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K (1-0 win)
In a game that featured only six hits and one total run, it was an error that provided the margin of victory. Paul Konerko scored the game’s lone run in the bottom of the seventh following a Jhonny Peralta miscue, after the former had reached on a double to lead off that inning. Cleveland’s Jake Westbrook pitched a complete game in the loss, but he was outdueled by Buehrle, who shut down the likes of Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez and Coco Crisp with eight innings of two-hit ball. Buehrle’s dominant outing set the tone for a legendary year in Chicago, as the White Sox went on to win their first World Series since 1917, becoming the second consecutive World Series winner to snap a title drought of 85-plus years (Boston: 1918 to 2004).
HM -- Jack McDowell (1991 at BAL): 9 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K (9-1 win)
Angels: Nolan Ryan (April 6, 1973 vs. Royals)
CG, 9 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 12 K (3-2 win)
Ryan broke out in 1972 following a trade from the Mets to the Angels, striking out 329 batters over 284 innings. The flamethrower managed to top himself the following season, setting a Modern Era record (since 1900) with 383 K’s. It began with 12 strikeouts in the Halos’ season opener against the Royals, as Ryan -- making his first career Opening Day start -- tossed a complete game in a one-run win. He’d record a double-digit strikeout total in 23 starts that year, tied with Randy Johnson (three times) for the most in a single season.
HM -- Eli Grba (1961 at BAL): CG, 9 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 5 K (7-2 win)
Astros: J.R. Richard (April 10, 1980 vs. Dodgers)
8 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 13 K (3-2 win)
A longtime Astro, Richard earned his first career All-Star nod in 1980. He started his fantastic season off with a gem against the Dodgers, allowing two hits and recording 13 strikeouts in a Houston win. That season proved to be Richard’s last, however, as he suffered a stroke while playing catch at the Astrodome that July due to a massive blockage in his right carotid artery, which required emergency surgery. He’d never throw a pitch in the Major Leagues again.
HM -- Roy Oswalt (2006 vs. FLA): 8 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K (1-0 win)
Athletics: Sonny Gray (April 6, 2015 vs. Rangers)
8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 K (8-0 win)
Opening Day 2015 was a Gray Day for the A’s -- and for the Rangers offense. Gray took a no-hit bid into the eighth inning, with a hit batter and an error representing Texas’ only two baserunners until Ryan Rua’s leadoff single in the eighth. He finished the inning as Oakland cruised to an 8-0 win. His standout start was the beginning of a memorable season that saw Gray pitch to a 2.73 ERA in 208 innings. Then in his third season, Gray earned an All-Star nod and finished third in the AL Cy Young Award voting in 2015.
HM -- Tim Hudson (2003 vs. SEA): 8 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 K (5-0 win)
Mariners: Félix Hernández (April 2, 2007 vs. A’s)
8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 12 K (4-0 win)
King Félix certainly lived up to his regal nickname in his 11 Opening Day starts for the Mariners. The right-hander reigned supreme over the competition in those starts, posting a 1.53 ERA with 78 strikeouts across 76 2/3 innings. Of the 16 pitchers on record with at least 10 Opening Day starts in the live ball era (since 1920), none has a lower Opening Day ERA than Hernández. He made his first Opening Day start just six days prior to his 21st birthday in 2007 and gave Mariners fans a glimpse of the ace he’d soon become, fanning 12 batters over eight shutout innings against the A’s.
HM -- Randy Johnson (1993 vs. TOR): 8 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 14 K (8-1 win)
Rangers: Bert Blyleven (April 7, 1977 at Orioles)
CG, 10 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 8 K (2-1 win)
After six-plus seasons with Minnesota, Blyleven was dealt to the Rangers in a six-player trade in June 1976. The right-hander already had five Opening Day starts under his belt with the Twins -- the last two of which, coincidentally, came against Texas -- when he took the mound for the Rangers in the first game of their 1977 season. In a marquee pitching matchup between a pair of future Hall of Famers, Blyleven outdueled the Orioles’ Jim Palmer -- the winner of the AL Cy Young Award in 1973, ‘75 and ‘76 -- with 10 innings of one-run ball. Texas pulled ahead on Bump Wills’ two-out RBI single off Palmer in the top of the 10th, and Blyleven finished off his masterful complete game with a perfect inning in the bottom of the frame.
HM -- Gaylord Perry (1976 vs. MIN): CG, 11 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K (2-1 win)
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Tom Glavine (April 7, 1992 at Astros)
CG, 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K (2-0 win)
The Braves have had many esteemed hurlers take the mound on Opening Day in their pitching-rich history, but Glavine’s 1992 performance stands out among the rest. Coming off his first NL Cy Young Award in 1991, the left-hander struck out nine in a two-hit shutout at the Astrodome. He’d go on to toss an MLB-high five shutouts that season, finishing second in the NL Cy Young race to future teammate Greg Maddux.
HM -- Warren Spahn (1959^ at PIT): CG, 9 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K (8-0 win)
^For Milwaukee Braves
Marlins: Kevin Brown (April 1, 1997 vs. Cubs)
7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 K (4-2 win)
The Marlins finished under .500 in each of their first four seasons, but they made it clear from the get-go that 1997 was going to be different. Coming off an MLB-leading 1.89 ERA in 1996, Brown got the ball on Opening Day against the Cubs and limited Chicago to one hit over seven scoreless innings in a 4-2 victory. The Marlins ended up clinching their first postseason berth before going on to win the World Series.
HM -- José Fernández (2014 vs. COL): 6 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 9 K (10-1 win)
Mets: Dwight Gooden (April 5, 1993 vs. Rockies)
CG, 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K (3-0 win)
The Rockies’ inaugural Major League game after joining MLB as an expansion team in 1993? It came against Gooden and the Mets at Shea Stadium, and it didn’t go well for Colorado. “Doc” put on a clinic, tossing a shutout in a 3-0 Mets win. Gooden sat down 12 straight Rockies from the fifth through eighth innings. He was a bright spot for a Mets team that finished the season at 59-103, the franchise’s worst record since 1965.
HM -- Tom Seaver (1975 vs. PHI): CG, 9 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 K (2-1 win)
Nationals: Stephen Strasburg (April 1, 2013 vs. Marlins)
7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K (2-0 win)
Strasburg followed up an All-Star campaign in his first full Major League season with an impressive Opening Day outing. He stymied Miami over seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits in a 2-0 Washington win at Nationals Park. Strasburg was backed by a pair of solo homers by Bryce Harper against Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco, and he retired 19 consecutive hitters after Juan Pierre singled to lead off the game. Strasburg finished the season with a 3.00 ERA in 183 innings, helping the Nats post a winning record for the second time since their move from Montreal.
HM -- Steve Rogers (1982^ at PHI): CG, 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 10 K (2-0 win)
^For Montreal Expos
Phillies: Roy Halladay (April 5, 2012 at Pirates)
8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K (1-0 win)
After the Phillies’ 2011 season ended with an NLDS loss to the Cardinals (in which an injured Halladay was on the mound for the deciding Game 5), he threw a vintage performance on Opening Day against the Pirates. After hitting a batter in the eighth inning to put a runner on, Halladay struck out Nate McLouth on a breaking ball to silence the record-setting crowd of 39,585 at PNC Park.
HM -- Steve Carlton (1972 at CHC): 8 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K (4-2 win)
Brewers: Ben Sheets (April 2, 2007 vs. Dodgers)
CG, 9 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K (7-1 win)
The 2007 season marked 25 years since the Brewers won the AL -- yes, AL -- pennant. On Opening Day, Sheets helped turn back the clock with a complete-game win over the Dodgers. A leadoff home run by Jeff Kent in the second inning was the only damage against Sheets, who proceeded to retire the next 22 L.A. batters before Brady Clark’s one-out double in the ninth. Current Brewers manager Craig Counsell drove in a run in Milwaukee’s 7-1 victory. Sheets earned his third All-Star nod in 2007, helping the Brewers finish second in the NL Central.
HM -- Teddy Higuera (1988 at BAL): 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K (12-0 win)
Cardinals: Bob Gibson (April 11, 1967 vs. Giants)
CG, 9 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 13 K (6-0 win)
The 1967 season will forever live in Cardinals lore, and Gibson is a large reason why. But before Gibson was named MVP of the 1967 Fall Classic, he was the star of Opening Day, shutting out a stacked Giants lineup. Gibson was electric from the start, as he struck out the first five batters of the game -- a group that included Willie Mays and Willie McCovey -- and didn’t surrender a hit until the third inning. It was one of 10 Opening Day starts Gibson made for the Redbirds.
HM -- Adam Wainwright (2014 at CIN): 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 9 K (1-0 win)
Cubs: Jake Arrieta (April 4, 2016 at Angels)
7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K (9-0 win)
Coming off a memorable second half in 2015 that won him the NL Cy Young Award, Arrieta started the 2016 season in style. In Anaheim, Arrieta kicked off a season that resulted in the Cubs’ first World Series win since 1908. He scattered two hits over seven scoreless innings in Chicago’s 9-0 victory over the Angels. Arrieta even held Mike Trout hitless and struck him out twice. In 2016, he allowed the fewest hits per nine innings in the Major Leagues and was named an All-Star for the first time before the Cubs captured the crown against Cleveland.
HM -- Fergie Jenkins (1971 vs. STL): CG, 10 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 K
Pirates: Bob Veale (April 12, 1965 vs. Giants)
CG, 10 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 K (1-0 win)
After spending the first two years of his career as both a reliever and a starter, Veale became a full-time starter in 1964 and led the National League in strikeouts. He bested himself in ‘65, recording 276 strikeouts (the franchise’s Modern Era record), 10 of which came in his Opening Day gem against the Giants. After tossing nine scoreless innings, Veale went out for the 10th and recorded two strikeouts before Bob Bailey hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the inning.
HM -- Dock Ellis (1971 vs. PHI): CG, 9 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K (4-2 win)
Reds: Johnny Vander Meer (April 21, 1943 vs. Cardinals)
CG, 11 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 3 K (1-0 win)
Vander Meer is best known for pitching no-hitters in two consecutive starts in 1938, but his Opening Day performance in 1943 deserves recognition. The Reds hurler tossed 11 scoreless innings against the Cardinals, earning the win after a walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th by Max Marshall. Since 1990, only one pitcher -- the Yankees’ Andy Hawkins -- has gone more than 11 innings in a single game. Vander Meer made his fourth All-Star Game in 1943, but he left baseball for the next two years to serve in the Navy during World War II. He returned in 1946 and pitched six more Major League seasons.
HM -- Johnny Cueto (2015 vs. PIT): 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 K (5-2 win)
D-backs: Randy Johnson (April 1, 2002 vs. Padres)
CG, 9 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K (2-0 win)
Despite being 38 years old at the start of the 2002 season, Johnson showed he was still as dominant as ever, scattering six hits over nine innings while blanking the Padres. The start kicked off what might be the best season of Johnson’s career, as he went 24-5 with 2.32 ERA en route to winning his fourth straight NL Cy Young Award. The win also gave Johnson a unique piece of baseball history, as he also won the final two games of the 2001 World Series, making him the second pitcher in MLB history to win three consecutively-scheduled regulation games. The only other pitcher to accomplish the feat is Walter Johnson.
HM -- Johnson (2001 at LAD): 7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 10 K (3-2 win)
Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw (April 1, 2013 vs. Giants)
CG, 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K (4-0 win)
Kershaw has now made nine Opening Day starts for the Dodgers. His third -- in 2013 against rival San Francisco -- is currently in line to go down as his best. The southpaw delivered a classic performance, outlasting Matt Cain and tossing a shutout at Dodger Stadium in a 4-0 win for Los Angeles. Oh, yeah -- he also socked a solo home run off reliever George Kontos in the bottom of the eighth to break the scoreless tie before L.A. added three more runs. The blast to center field remains Kershaw’s only Major League homer.
HM -- Don Drysdale (1960 vs. CHC): CG, 11 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 14 K (3-2 win)
Giants: Juan Marichal (April 12, 1966 vs. Cubs)
CG, 9 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K (9-1 win)
The 1966 campaign was the fifth of eight straight All-Star seasons for Marichal, and he got off to a scorching start against the Cubs at Candlestick Park. Chicago’s only run came in the seventh inning, and it was unearned after a fielding error at first base broke up Marichal's perfect-game bid. He worked around singles in the eighth and ninth to notch one of six complete games with zero or one earned run allowed that he authored for the Giants on Opening Day between 1962-73.
HM -- Tim Lincecum (2010 at HOU): 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K (5-2 win)
Padres: Dick Selma (April 8, 1969 vs. Astros)
CG, 9 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 12 K (2-1 win)
Selma set the bar high for Padres pitchers by authoring a complete game with 12 strikeouts in the franchise’s first game. After he gave up a leadoff single to Jesus Alou (starting the Padres’ streak of 8,205 games without a no-hitter), Selma was nearly unhittable the rest of the night. He helped out his own cause by recording two of San Diego’s four hits and laying down a sacrifice bunt.
HM -- Jake Peavy (2008 vs. HOU): 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 4 K (4-0 win)
Rockies: Mike Hampton (April 2, 2001 vs. Cardinals)
8 1/3 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K (8-0 win)
Hampton’s time with the Rockies after signing an eight-year, $121 million deal isn’t fondly remembered, but his tenure couldn’t have started much better in 2001. Colorado’s offense put up 15 hits and eight runs against the Cardinals on Opening Day at Coors Field, and Hampton took a shutout into the ninth before handing the ball off to Jose Jimenez to close out the win.
HM -- Kyle Freeland (2019 at MIA): 7 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K (6-3 win)