Ranking the best moments from an electric Opening Day

March 29th, 2024

Whew, what an Opening Day!

We had grand pitching performances, thrilling breakouts from emerging stars, some new faces in new places and some reliable star turns from some reliable stars. Opening Day is just one game of 162, but it’s the first of 162, which makes it inherently more thrilling … and more memorable.

Here’s a look at the biggest moments of Opening Day. And the best part? We get to do this again tomorrow.

1. Soto’s first big Yankees moment
Suffice it to say, when you closed your eyes and thought of winning a game for the Yankees, you probably didn’t see him without a bat in his hands. But in an enthralling Opening Day game featuring two teams with World Series aspirations, it was Soto’s arm that sent the Yankees faithful swooning.

After falling behind early, 4-0, to an Astros team that has caused the Yankees headaches for years, the Yankees clawed their way back -- thanks in part to Soto getting on base three times and knocking in a run -- and took a 5-4 lead heading into the ninth. With Mauricio Dubón on second, Kyle Tucker singled to right, and the game -- for all intents and purposes -- looked tied. But then Soto threw a perfect strike to the plate, saving the Yankees’ lead -- one they would not relinquish.

2. Every single second of that D-backs 14-run third inning
You know how much guff everybody gave the D-backs last year, when they made the World Series, that they were outscored by 15 runs on the season? Well, Thursday’s 14-run third inning against the Rockies should help prove that isn’t going to be an issue in 2024. The D-backs think they’re a lot better than they were last year -- you know, the year they won the NL pennant -- and they started like they were shot out of a cannon. Their explosion in the third inning marked the most runs scored in an Opening Day frame in the Modern Era (since 1900), and they did it, impressively, without a single home run. Here’s guessing the D-backs’ run differential looks a lot better this time around.

3. Tyler O’Neill, Mr. Opening Day
Consistency has been the only issue for the Gold Glove Award-winning slugger O’Neill, a five-tool player who just can’t seem to stay on the field. But for one day? O’Neill can definitely stay on the field for one day. And what a day that is. The new Red Sox outfielder, acquired from the Cardinals over the offseason, homered on his fifth straight Opening Day to set a Major League record. Even better, it came against the Mariners, the team that originally drafted and developed him. It’s the long term that’s usually the question mark for O’Neill. But on the first day of the season? He’s a perpetual MVP.

4. Heim’s redemption
That appeared to be correct when he protested that Miles Mastrobuoni had fouled off a pitch rather than missed it entirely in the ninth inning of a 2-2 game was besides the point: Michael Busch’s heads-up play to sprint home while Heim was complaining to umpire Chad Fairchild gave the Cubs the lead. Heim would admit later that he was wrong not to pursue the ball, but it was much easier for him to do so considering what happened in the bottom of the 10th.

After Travis Jankowski, of all people, homered to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth, Heim came up with the bases loaded, two outs and the game tied. A line drive into right field gave him the walk-off hit, and his less-than-heads-up (if still seemingly correct!) grousing in the ninth was forgotten … or, if not forgotten, at least became safe and funny to talk about. What a way for the Rangers to start off their World Series title defense.

5. The Dodgers’ Big 3 have an all-day party
You've probably heard a bit this offseason about how the Dodgers have three former MVPs in , and in their lineup this year; and, handily, they’re batting 1-2-3 in the order. That’s a terrifying concept for any pitcher, and the Cardinals’ Miles Mikolas had to experience that terror firsthand. The MV3s went 5-for-8 with four walks, six runs and two homers in a commanding 7-1 victory. Betts and Freeman both homered, whereas Ohtani “only” had a single and a double.

6. A perfect debut (and day) in Baltimore
After a sad week for the city of Baltimore, the Orioles put their best foot forward for a franchise that looks like one that’s about to enter a golden age in its history. With new owner David Rubenstein on hand (and buying beers for fans near the ballpark), new ace on the mound and all those young stars circling the bases like mad, the O’s were dominant in front of a home crowd that soaked up every second of it.

Burnes lived up to the hype as the big offseason acquisition, fanning 11 over six innings, with the only blemish a solo home run allowed to Mike Trout in the first.

It was the platonic ideal of an Opening Day at Camden Yards, one that made you feel like this franchise’s pain the past few years was long behind it.

7. Montas justifies the Reds’ faith
Before Thursday, had thrown 1 1/3 innings since September 16, 2022, but that didn’t stop the Reds from signing him to a one-year, $16 million contract and making him their Opening Day starter. This on the heels of a spring in which he put up middling numbers (5.94 ERA in five starts) but had the entire Reds camp raving that the old Montas was back.

He sure looked like it against the Nationals, throwing six scoreless innings, giving up just four hits and no walks, in a breezy victory that was aided by a pair of Nick Martini homers. Montas was a top-six Cy Young finisher just three years ago. He sure looked like one again for the Reds.

8. Vlad Jr. makes his 2024 intentions clear
One of the biggest questions for the Blue Jays, not just for this season but for their short- and long-term future, is whether is the superstar he looked like he was going to be in his MVP runner-up season of 2021, or just the very good player he has been since then. The answer to that question affects whether the Blue Jays will build around him and if they’re ever going to win a playoff series.

Well, Toronto got an immediate reminder of what he’s capable of when he launched a monster 450-foot home run to dead center (with an exit velocity of 111.8 mph, a figure that makes me want to duck just looking at it) to give the Jays a 3-1 lead in a game they would win, 8-2, over the Rays. Vlad Jr. has to do it day after day, like everyone does, but it’s always good to see, oh, yeah, he can do that. Because not very many people can do that.

9. Skubal’s darkhorse Cy Young candidacy is already off and running
The Detroit ace -- he can probably be called that now -- was one of the best pitchers in baseball for the second half of last season (3.11 ERA after the All-Star break), but we’re still waiting for him to maintain that dominance over a full season. was a master for the Tigers in their opener, throwing six shutout innings and giving up only three hits and no walks.

The Tigers needed every bit of that mastery: They scraped out a third-inning run off (a pretty excellent, actually) Garret Crochet, who was making his first career start for the White Sox, and it held up for a 1-0 victory. Fun fact about Skubal: Harking back to last year, he has now given up only one run in his last 35 innings. (That’s pretty good.)

10. Shane Bieber saying ‘Don’t forget about me’
Bieber is one of those pitchers -- perhaps because time has gotten so bent and confusing over the past half-decade -- who seems a lot older than he really is. He’s still only 28! Bieber wasn’t the Bieber we had gotten used to in 2023, but he sure looked like that Bieber on Opening Day, going full Cy Young winner mode with a truly dominant six-inning, 11-K, scoreless performance. He’d looked for most of this spring like he was returning to vintage Bieber and it paid off magnificently against the A’s. It’s one game, against an offense that isn’t the most imposing, but still ... do the Guardians have their ace back?

11. Trout is going to be fine (His team, though …)
You heard rumblings all Spring Training: Mike Trout looks like he’s moving slowly … he’s only hitting .224 … are the injuries getting to him? …. Or maybe he’s just old. How did Trout answer those doubters in his first at-bat on Thursday? Oh, he just went out and hit a home run off Burnes like it was the easiest thing in the world. It was a vintage Trout moment that gave you hope we’ll see the real deal all season … and then the Angels went and gave up 11 runs. Well, at least he’s back.