Here are the top five Opening Day moments in Royals history:
1. Six-run ninth inning
April 4, 2004
After Kansas City’s winning 2003 season, Royals fans were in high spirits. But things looked grim for much of the afternoon at Kauffman Stadium on Opening Day in ’04. The White Sox scored four runs in the second inning and had a 7-2 lead in the seventh. The Royals made it 7-3 and then the fun began in the ninth.
Two walks followed by a double from Benito Santiago made the score 7-4. With one out, the light-hitting Mendy Lopez came to the plate with a career total of five home runs. His sixth -- and final -- career homer was belted over the 410-foot sign in center field for three runs. Lopez said it was the longest ball he had ever hit.
“This, I’m going to remember for the rest of my life,” Beltrán said. “I’m going to live with this. Opening Day, a walk-off home run -- it doesn’t get any better.”
2. A day of Royals firsts
April 8, 1969
The first Opening Day in a franchise’s history is always an historic moment. It’s a bonus that the Royals’ debut ended up being a great game that went into extra innings. The Twins went on to win the American League West that year, but it was the Kansas City that came out on top in this game at Municipal Stadium. The Royals battled back from a 3-1 deficit, tying the game in the sixth inning with singles from Jim Campanis and Lou Piniella, who earlier knocked the first Royals hit and scored the first run in franchise history.
Royals reliever Dave Wickersham came in in the top of the seventh and held the Twins scoreless for five innings before Moe Drabowsky pitched a perfect 12th inning. In the bottom of the 12th, Joe Foy singled and took second on a passed ball. The Twins issued an intentional walk to Chuck Harrison. Then a wild pitch preceded another intentional walk, to Bob Oliver. That loaded the bases for pinch-hitter Joe Keough, who lined a walk-off single off the right-field wall for the Royals’ 4-3 victory.
3. World Series rematch
April 3, 2016
Opening Day in 2016 was one of celebration for the Royals. They ended a three-decade World Series championship drought the previous fall, and tradition held that Opening Day was to be a banner ceremony for the winning team. It just so happened that the opposing team they raised the banner in front of was the same team the Royals had beaten in five games to win that banner -- the Mets.
It was the first time that the opposing teams from previous World Series were playing each other on Opening Day, and it happened by chance. The schedule was set the previous September, before the Mets had even clinched a playoff berth. The Royals beat the Mets, 4-3, on Opening Day at Kauffman Stadium the same way they won in October: a combination of strong pitching, steady defense and pesky offense. Kansas City’s Edinson Vólquez outpitched Matt Harvey, holding the Mets scoreless for six innings. The Royals took the lead in the first inning, expanded it in the fourth and tacked on two more runs in the sixth.
The Mets made the game close late, but Royals closer Wade Davis struck out David Wright and Yoenis Céspedes in the ninth inning with the potential tying run on third base.
Keller was dominant, surrendering just two hits and one walk across seven innings in the Royals’ 5-3 win over the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. No one reached second base. Just five batters got to three-ball counts. At 23 years, 244 days old, Keller became the youngest Major League starter to win on Opening Day since José Fernández (21 years, 243 days) in 2014, and the youngest in the American League since Félix Hernández (22 years, 363 days) in ’09. Keller also became the youngest in the Majors to record seven innings and allow two hits or fewer on Opening Day since Bob Feller’s no-hitter at age 21 years, 165 days in 1940.
Keller, who missed Opening Day in 2020 because of a positive COVID-19 test, continued his rise with a strong season upon his return. He posted a 2.47 ERA across nine starts.
5. A fresh start
March 31, 2003
Opening Day hardly sets a predictive path for a team that season, but for a club trying to erase memories of a 100-loss season, an Opening Day win is about as good as it gets.
The Royals beat the White Sox, 3-0, at Kauffman Stadium to begin the 2003 season behind starter Runelvys Hernandez’s two-hit, six-inning outing. The Royals went 83-79 that year, their first winning season in almost a decade, and held first place in the AL Central in late August.