Yesterday was supposed to be Opening Day in Major League Baseball, an ersatz holiday for baseball fans, where records are wiped clean and first impressions for the season are fresh. Of course, the indefinite delay of the MLB season due to the COVID-19 pandemic kept that from happening, as the sports world waits for a green light somewhere in the distance.
There have been 43 opening days in Toronto Blue Jays history, and the team is 21-22 in season-opening games. The first game on the calendar can be a harbinger for the season to come, or it can be a one-of-162 blip on the radar, ultimately signifying nothing.
The Jays have seen their share of heroics and disappointments in front of what is often the largest crowd of the season. Here is a look back at some of the best and worst performances on Opening Day in Blue Jays history.
Doug Ault - 1977
As far as very first impressions go, Doug Ault was the name brand new fans would take away from the franchise’s first ever official major league regular season game.
Ault hit two home runs into the Exhibition Stadium stands on April 7, 1977, helping the Blue Jays win 9-5 over the Chicago White Sox on their first ever opening day.
He hit a solo home run in the bottom of the 1st for the first ever run scored by the franchise, and followed up with a two-run shot in his second at-bat in the 3rd. Ault sealed the deal on his day with a RBI single in the 8th inning to stretch the lead to 8-5, finishing the day 3-4 with 4 RBI and a walk.
He ended up totalling 11 home runs in the entire 1977 season, and hit only 17 in his entire career. For one day, at least, he was the greatest slugger in Blue Jays history.
Tom Underwood - 1979
The 1979 Blue Jays lost 109 games, making it the worst season in team history. Opening Day served as a season-long preview, with the Blue Jays getting demolished 11-2 by the Kansas City Royals.
Things were pretty much sewn up by the end of the second inning, as the Royals scored nine times against starting pitcher Tom Underwood. Underwood lasted 1.2 innings, walking four, and allowing nine runs. He didn’t get a lot of help from his defence, with two errors in the inning from second baseman Dave McKay and third baseman Roy Howell.
Here’s how the inning unfolded:
2-Run E4 (McKay)
McKay and Howell went 0-for-8 and combined for three errors in the game, so Underwood can’t shoulder all the blame for how quickly things got out of hand.
Mark Bomback - 1982
After Ault’s heroics on the team’s very first Opening Day, the team went on a five-year opening day losing streak, capped off by a 15-4 beatdown at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Mark Bomback got the ball for the Blue Jays to start and didn’t last long enough to see the end of the first inning.
He faced eight batters in the inning, allowing six hits and six runs with a walk. He did manage to record a strikeout on the one batter he managed to retire in his very abbreviated stint.
His catcher Ernie Whitt went 2-3 with a home run and 3 RBI at the plate, but the Blue Jays never came close to climbing out of the hole Bomback helped put them in to start the game.
George Bell - 1988
Following a monster 1987 season where he hit 47 home runs, drove in 134 runs and captured the AL MVP award, George Bell kicked off the 1988 campaign by making a statement that he had eyes on repeating as the league’s best player.
On April 4, 1988, Bell became the first player to ever hit three home runs in an Opening Day game.
Bell absolutely tormented Kansas City Royals starter Bret Saberhagen, swatting a trio of jacks with relative ease into the stands at Royals Stadium.
Bell tagged him with a solo shot to left in the 2nd, a two-run bomb to left-centre in the 4th, and capped it off by keeping one inside the foul pole in left once more to put some icing on the cake in the 8th.
The four RBI on Bell’s swings proved to be the difference in the game, as the Blue Jays beat the Royals 5-3 on opening day.
Jack Morris - 1992
After nine straight winning seasons and three playoff disappointments, the Blue Jays came in to 1992 loaded up and ready to get serious about chasing a World Series.
With core players like Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, Devon White, and John Olerud in place, part of the strategy to push themselves over the top was to add an ace to the top of the pitching staff. The Blue Jays signed reigning World Series MVP Jack Morris on December 18, 1991, and he was ready to go as the opening day starter for the coming season.
Morris showed the Blue Jays exactly what they hoped to see, pitching a complete game in a 4-2 win against the Detroit Tigers.
Morris took a 3-hit shutout into the ninth inning, and had it ruined by a pair of solo home runs in the game’s final frame. His final line for the day was nine innings pitched, five hits, two earned runs, three walks, and seven strikeouts. In classic Morris fashion, he threw 144 pitches in the game.
He finished the season with a 21-6 record and 4.04 ERA, and the Blue Jays won their first of two back-to-back World Series titles.
Tony Batista - 2000
The turn-of-the-century Blue Jays had just seen two incredible seasons of Roger Clemens come and go, and entered the new millennium seeking some direction and unsure of how far they would be from anything resembling a new wave of glory years.
The fist game of the 2000’s featured a pair of big days from two spots in the lineup, as both left fielder Shannon Stewart and third baseman Tony Batista hit two home runs to provide all the offence in a dramatic 5-4 win over the Kansas City Royals.
Batista — and his truly ridiculous batting stance — get the nod here thanks to the heroics. After closer Billy Koch blew a save in the top half of the ninth inning, Batista stepped to the plate with two out in the bottom of the ninth and smashed the ball into the second deck in left field at SkyDome.
Batista went on the make the All-Star team in 2000, finishing with 41 home runs and 114 RBI in one of the great forgotten Blue Jays seasons.
Adam Lind - 2009
After struggling to find a spot as a left fielder to start his career, Adam Lind announced his arrival and the beginning of a breakout season with a huge game on opening day 2009.
Hitting fifth and DHing, Lind became the catalyst in the Blue Jays offence to start the season. He went 4-5, adding 6 RBI on the day, with a three-run home run in the fourth inning serving as the crown jewel of an elite day at the plate.
This game kicked off a career year for the 25-year-old, who smashed career highs with 35 home runs, 46 doubles, and 114 RBI. He won the Silver Slugger and Edgar Martinez Award for best designated hitter.
J.P. Arencibia / R.A. Dickey - 2013
In an effort to jump start the franchise back into contention, the Blue Jays made some major moves in the 2012 offseason. A trade with the Miami Marlins landed the team a new star shortstop in Jose Reyes, new pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. A separate deal with the New York Mets brought the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner and knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey on board to be the staff ace.
Arencibia — who was the Opening Day hero in 2012 with a 16th inning home run, to be fair — wanted the challenge of trying to corral the famously fickle knuckleball, and asked manager John Gibbons to be given the assignment instead of Dickey’s usual catcher / caddy Josh Thole.
The experiment did not go well.
Arencibia battled the baseball butterfly all evening long, leading to three passed balls in six innings. Dickey ended up taking the loss with four runs and four walks allowed in six innings pitched.
Josh Donaldson - 2018
Following a return to the playoffs in 2015 and 2016, injury and under-performance caught up the 2017 Blue Jays. Edwin Encarnacion was replaced with Kendrys Morales, Troy Tulowitzki played only 66 games, and 2015 MVP Josh Donaldson missed nearly 50 games.
After the 2017 step back, there were a few Blue Jays fans holding out hope that with a clean bill of health, Donaldson could possibly help lead the team back into contention at the very least.
With one ground ball hit his direction on opening day, the idea of anything positive coming out of 2018 evaporated in front of our eyes.
The first inning of the 2018 season was a disaster. Curtis Granderson failed to catch a routine fly ball hit right at him, and shiny new Yankees toy Giancarlo Stanton hit a mammoth home run in his first at-bat for a division rival. The next at bat was a ground ball that Donaldson made a great diving play to snag, but the throw came out incredibly soft and bounced twice before reaching fist.
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) March 29, 2018
Any thought that it was just a bad grip went away quickly, as the soft throws happened repeatedly during the game. It lead to Gibbons dropping a quote of the year on game one. He said of Donaldson’s arm: “Not a big deal, it’s just dead.”
Donaldson would serve as DH the next five games, and would be placed on the injured list within two weeks of opening day. He played another 23 games in May, and was then traded to the Cleveland Indians at the end of August. It was a sad fizzling out of one of the brightest supernova stars the franchise ever had.
The Blue Jays have had about an even split of ups-and-downs on Opening Day, but it is safe to say that as we wait to find out if and when baseball will come back, fans would take even another Mark Bomback start if it meant we got to watch a game.
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