Tuffy, Fergie top Cubs' Opening Day feats

February 8th, 2021

CHICAGO -- It is the only day on the baseball calendar when every team is undefeated. Optimism abounds and on-pace-for numbers can border on comical with an amazing performance.

Opening Day is when the long, winding road to the final pitch of the World Series begins. It's a time for turning the page and starting a fresh chapter, or a time for building off the previous year and defending a crown. The possibilities -- for that one day -- can seem infinite.

And given the annual celebration that comes with Opening Day each year, it can be a time when players put their name into franchise lore. For the Cubs, here are our selections for the five greatest Opening Day moments in the team's long, storied historyL

1. Tuffy's hat trick
April 4, 1994
Heading into Opening Day in 1994, (also known by the nickname "Tuffy") had five Major League home runs across parts of four seasons with Houston. To begin '94, Rhodes was slotted into the leadoff spot against none other than Mets starter Dwight Gooden.

Gooden -- a National League Rookie of the Year Award winner, NL Cy Young Award winner, two-time World Series champion and four-time All-Star -- allowed three homers in a game only eight times. Only 13 players belted as many as three homers in their respective careers against the right-hander. Atlanta's Terry Pendleton was the only player with a multihomer game against Gooden (June 20, 1991) before Opening Day in 1994.

Go figure, Rhodes drilled three homers off Gooden that day.

"We made him a legend today," Mets manager Dallas Green was quoted as saying in the Chicago Tribune after Rhodes' powerful display.

Rhodes homered in the first, third and fifth innings against Gooden, putting on a show more memorable than the final score (New York won, 12-8). After the third blast, the Wrigley Field faithful began tossing hats out of the stands and bleachers, forcing a 10-minute delay to clear the playing field.

"I didn't realize what was going on when I saw all the hats," Rhodes told the Chicago Tribune at the time. "Somebody finally told me it was a 'hat trick' -- like they have in hockey. It was great. I loved it."

Only four players have smacked three homers on Opening Day in MLB history.

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2. Jenkins vs. Gibson
April 6, 1971
began his 1971 NL Cy Young Award-winning season with a legendary duel against Cardinals great Bob Gibson. Chicago's big righty outlasted Gibson in a 2-1 victory at Wrigley Field. The "W" was delivered via a 10th-inning walk-off home run by .

Even with it being Opening Day, Jenkins said there was no hesitation from manager Leo Durocher in keeping his pitcher on the hill.

"He came by me in the eighth," Jenkins said last year, recounting his duel with Gibson. "And he always said, 'Hey big fella, how you doing?' I said, 'I'm fine.' He came by in the ninth: 'I'm fine.' He let me go back out in the 10th."

While Gibson lasted 9 1/3 innings, Jenkins lasted all 10. Jenkins' line is one of just three recorded instances in Cubs history in which a pitcher had at least seven strikeouts, no free passes issued and no more than three hits allowed in at least 10 innings. (May 11, 1988) and (July 29, 1907) also achieved the feat.

3. Willie's game-winner
April 8, 1969
The memorable season of the 1969 Cubs began with a wild Opening Day clash with the Phillies. With his father in the stands, had two homers, three hits and five RBIs to electrify the Wrigley Field crowd, but it was the lesser-known Willie Smith who stole the show with his final swing.

Smith -- described as "an ex-boxer, ex-pitcher, and current bench sitter" in the Tribune's game story the following day -- was told to grab a bat by Durocher in the home half of the 11th inning. This came after Philadelphia's Don Money launched a game-tying homer off Jenkins in the ninth and a go-ahead double off in the 11th.

The lefty-swinging Smith pinch-hit for Jim Hickman with one out and Randy Hundley on first, and he promptly belted a two-run, walk-off homer against Barry Lersch to deliver a 7-6 win. Smith was swarmed by teammates (and some fans who escaped the stands) at home plate in a raucous celebration.

4. Happ launches season
March 29, 2018
It wasn't just Opening Day, it was opening pitch. The 2018 MLB season began with the Cubs facing the Marlins -- and crushing a leadoff home run to right field at Marlins Park on the first pitch he saw from José Ureña. That made Happ the first player to lead off the league year with a homer on the very first pitch since Red Sox slugger Dwight Evans did it against Hall of Famer Jack Morris in 1986.

"I don't think anyone in the dugout thought a single was coming there," Cubs outfielder said after the Cubs' 8-4 victory. "We thought something special was going to happen there. To lead off the baseball season on the first pitch with a homer is pretty special."

5. Patterson's seven steaks
March 31, 2003
Powered by seven RBIs from , the Cubs dealt the Mets (and Tom Glavine) a 15-2 rout on Opening Day at Shea Stadium. Patterson had four hits, including a pair of RBI singles off Glavine and a pair of home runs off reliever Mike Bacsik. Patterson's seven RBIs are an Opening Day record for the Cubs and marked the first time a player had seven in a season opener since Minnesota's Brant Alyea in 1970.

"It's right there with the best Opening Days I've ever seen," Cubs manager Dusty Baker was quoted as saying in the Tribune. "That was a huge day for Corey, I'm sure something he'll remember forever."

A few more worth noting
July 24, 2020: opened one of the most challenging seasons in MLB history with a zero-walk, three-hit, nine-strikeout shutout in a 3-0 win over Milwaukee.
March 28, 2019: launched two home runs and collected four RBIs in a 12-4 rout of the Rangers in the final Opening Day at the Ballpark in Arlington.
March 31, 2008: had three hits (one a game-tying three-run homer in the ninth) in his MLB debut. Alas, it came in a 4-3 loss to Milwaukee.
March 29, 2000: The Cubs and Mets opened the 2000 season in Japan, where and Shane Andrews homered in a 5-3 win at the Tokyo Dome.
April 1, 1996: After the Padres rallied for two late runs, Grace delivered a walk-off single in the 10th off Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman for a 5-4 win.
April 4, 1989: In a wild ninth, closer loaded the bases with no outs, but then struck out three Phillies in a row (including Mike Schmidt) to save a 5-4 win.
April 14, 1936: Billy Herman went 5-for-5 in a 12-7 win over St. Louis, as one of only 30 players in MLB history with a homer, three doubles and five hits in a game.
April 14, 1925: not only dominated on the mound (two unearned runs in a complete game), but went 3-for-3 with a homer in an 8-2 win over Pittsburgh.