Opening Day at Home a respite for MLB fans

March 27th, 2020

“We will see you tomorrow night.”

Joe Buck spoke those words just as Game 6 of the 2011 World Series -- one of the most remarkable postseason games ever played -- ended. How perfect.

We traveled back there Thursday, back to Busch Stadium that night in 2011. We were there to see it and feel it. We’ve watched it before, and it never fails to captivate.

Twice, the Rangers were a strike away from winning the 2011 World Series. Twice, the Cardinals fought back.

And then David Freese, the Cardinals' hometown kid, delivered a crushing walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning for a 10-9 Cardinals victory. That the Cardinals would win Game 7 seemed predestined at that point. Game 6 is the one we remember.

And how was your Opening Day 2020? Or at least the originally scheduled Opening Day 2020?

In a pinch, Opening Day at Home was a spectacular way to spend it -- to ride along as MLB went back through the archives and delivered a memorable game for all 30 teams.

They stretched across 13 hours, and when the last one had been played, when we’d found ourselves immersed in game after game, even though we already knew the outcome, we were exhausted and happy and reminded that we love this sport.

About the only thing that could top a contest like World Series Game 6 in 2011 was the Game 7 of '16. The Cubs ended their 108-year championship drought, but they needed a game for the ages.

It had everything from blown leads to improbable heroes to, finally, a well-placed rain delay and a final ground ball to Kris Bryant. If you watched it and felt anything other than exhaustion, you simply aren’t human.

Throughout the day Thursday:

Aaron Boone flipped the bat into the air in 2003, and Dave Roberts stole second base in '04. The Indians won 22 in a row in '17, and the A’s got to 20 in '02. PNC Park rocked with postseason joy in '13, and José Bautista ignited an entire country in '15.

We caught a glimpse of Hall of Famer Al Kaline pacing nervously as 24-year-old Justin Verlander finished his first no-hitter in 2007. Verlander Instagrammed a photo of him and his family watching that one.

Presumably, he gathered them later in the day to watch his third one, that for the Astros in Toronto in 2019.

Bryce Harper had a moment too. That occurred last Aug. 15, when the Cubs took a 5-0 lead into the eighth inning at Citizens Bank Park. It was 5-3 when Harper stepped into the box and slugged a walk-off grand slam into the upper deck in right.

His sprint around the bases should be a nice table setter for Phillies fans who have high hopes about 2020.

Opening Day at Home began with the Brewers scoring a walk-off victory over the Rockies in Game 1 of a 2018 National League Division Series. The Brewers let a 2-0 lead slip away in the ninth, but won it in the bottom of the 10th on their way to a 3-0 sweep of the series.

We also watched as the Rays rallied from a 7-0 deficit against the Yankees on the final day of the 2011 season, thanks to Dan Johnson’s homer tying it with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and Evan Longoria winning it in 12. That 4-hour, 54-minute masterpiece played out as the last-place Orioles eliminated the Red Sox with a ninth-inning rally at Camden Yards.

The thing about these games is that each one seemed more gripping than the last. Again, we knew the outcome of each of them. And still, we couldn’t stop watching.

One part surely is that we miss the sport, that we can’t wait for it to return. Another is that when Major League Baseball is really good, it delivers on every level.

To see Boone, arms extended above his head, sail around the bases as his home run won the American League pennant for the Yankees remains amazing theater.

You watch the video and still feel Yankee Stadium rocking in a moment -- Yankees vs. Red Sox, after all -- that prompted a wild street party on one side, smothering disappointment on the other.

There was something happier for Red Sox fans when a comeback for the ages, which began with a Roberts stolen base, ended with the franchise’s first championship in 84 years.

To watch it now has to be even sweeter for Red Sox fans. Rather than sweat out every last moment of the comeback, it’s a sweet ride to an ending we all know.

And that Bautista bat flip. Four years later, it remains a signature moment, as he led the Blue Jays to their first playoff series in 22 years.

Finally, there was 23-year-old Marlins right-hander Josh Beckett walking to the mound at Yankee Stadium in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series. He stared down the ghosts of Ruth and Gehrig in tossing a five-hit shutout that clinched the World Series.

This was the strangest of Opening Days, as the game as been put on hold as the world fights COVID-19. As Commissioner Rob Manfred said, we will get back to baseball at some point and the sport will play a role in our healing. If we needed a reminder of its power, that’s what Thursday was all about.