The Clydesdales are groomed and prepped. Legends and Hall of Famers are primed to take part in an escapade around the warning track. The baselines and grass are as crisp as they’ll be all season. There’s not an empty seat at Busch Stadium.
It’s officially baseball time in a baseball town.
Opening Day in St. Louis has not just local allure, but it’s one of the most iconized inaugural ceremonies in sports. And the performances on the field often live up to the hype.
These are the best Opening Day moments in Cardinals history, both in St. Louis and on the road:
1. McGwire sparks historic homer season with grand slam
March 31, 1998
Mark McGwire's ascension toward Roger Maris' single-season home run record began in grand style on Opening Day 1998, when his fifth-inning grand slam off Ramon Martinez sent the Cardinals to a 6-0 win over the Dodgers. It was the swing that started a summer of slugging in St. Louis, and it set up McGwire's race to Maris' record against Chicago's Sammy Sosa. McGwire finished the season with 70 home runs, then the all-time single-season mark, homering in each of the first four games.
2. Gibson’s gem vs. the vaunted Giants
April 11, 1967
What do you get when you pit Bob Gibson against three Hall of Famers, three All-Stars and the lethal Giants of the 1960s? A 13-strikeout shutout is what you get. Opposite Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, Gibson kept hitless and struck out Willie Mays and Willie McCovey a combined four times at Busch Stadium II. Gibson conceded just five hits in the 6-0 victory, helping his cause with an RBI groundout in the seventh. Lou Brock powered the offense with a three-run homer on that April evening -- all aptly setting the stage for the 1967 World Series run.
3. Pujols to Cincinnati: Simmer down
April 5, 2010
Albert Pujols wasted no time showing why he was the unanimous National League MVP in 2009. As The Machine sat at two strikes in his first at-bat of 2010, a raucous Great American Ball Park egged him on a little too much. Pujols turned jeers into groans when he smoked a solo homer just left of the batter’s eye to open the scoring. He wasn’t done there, adding a two-run homer the opposite way to extend the lead in the seventh as part of a 4-for-5 day with four runs scored and 10 total bases. Yadier Molina had a day, too, lacing a grand slam to put the game out of reach in the ninth. Pujols missed a third consecutive MVP in 2010, but he still led the league in runs scored, homers and RBIs -- totals kick-started vs. the Reds.
4. Ozzie flips out on final Opening Day
April 26, 1995
Ozzie Smith started Opening Day in 13 of his first 14 seasons in St. Louis, third to only Molina and Brock in Cards history. (He missed the 1989 opener due to a strained muscle, and Royce Clayton got the start in '96.) But Smith's start in '95 lives in history. For starters, according to the broadcast, Smith became the oldest Opening Day shortstop in NL history at 40 years of age. But you wouldn’t have been able to tell. The Wizard of Oz led the Cardinals onto Busch Stadium II with his trademark backflip. Forty years old never looked so good.
5. Cubs can’t hang at Busch
April 2, 2017
Every Cardinals win over the Cubs is sweet. But a walk-off win on Opening Day behind a pitching gem? That’s a trifecta of sweet fulfillment. Carlos Martínez set the tone with 7 1/3 scoreless innings and 10 strikeouts in his first Opening Day nod, but heroics were required when Seunghwan Oh conceded a three-run homer to Willson Contreras in the top of the ninth. In stepped 25-year-old Randal Grichuk -- already with a two-run homer to his name -- with the bases loaded, capping off one of the more memorable Opening Days in recent Cards history.
• Opening Day in 1971 wasn’t much to write home about for the Cardinals, held to three hits in a 2-1 loss to the Cubs. But it featured a battle of titans, as Gibson took the loss while twirling 9 1/3 innings opposite fellow Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins, who pitched 10 innings of one-run ball.
• Like the 1967 run, the 2006 championship was kick-started by a marquee moment, with Scott Rolen’s fourth-inning grand slam punctuating a 13-5 win over the Phillies.
• It didn’t come on a true Opening Day, but it took Pujols just one game at Busch Stadium to blast his first homer within the city limits of St. Louis, the second overall of his career, in the 2001 home opener. The Cards won on a walk-off wild pitch.