Opening Day Disaster

The wait for Opening Day is forever. This year the wait was 183 days.

Given how depressing the 2013 season was and how the entire baseball season ended with the Red Sox winning their third championship in 10 seasons and that the 2014 Yankees would have so many new players to watch and that this will be Derek Jeter’s final season (and let’s not forget how miserable the weather in New York City has been), the hype and anticipation this offseason for Tuesday night in Houston was like to the months leading up to Y2K. But like New Year’s Day 14 years ago, when the day finally came, nothing happened and nothing changed. Opening Day 2014 might as well have been Game 163 of 2013.

The first 30 minutes of Yankee baseball in 2014 couldn’t have gone worse. Between Dexter Fowler’s leadoff double and CC Sabathia giving up four first-inning runs and another two in the second and Joe Girardi pulling the infield in in the first inning of an American League game on Opening Day with Scott Feldman as the opposing pitcher and Brian McCann’s errant throw and Mark Teixeira’s awful throw, you couldn’t have imagined a more confidence-crushing start to the season. The only comparison for the drop in my confidence level and feelings about the 2014 Yankees from 7:10 p.m. to about 7:40 p.m. is Mike McDermott’s blank stare and shock as his three stacks of high society are lost to Teddy KGB in the opening scene of Rounders.

In 2009, we had the letdown in Baltimore. In 2010, we had the blown lead in Boston. In 2012, we had the grand slam at the Trop. Last year, we had the Opening Day Debacle. This year, we have the Opening Day Disaster. The one constant between them all? CC Sabathia. After 16 consecutive scoreless innings to finish spring training, Sabathia put together his usual Opening Day performance to remind everyone once again not to put any stock into spring training. Sabathia threw 99 pitches and generated just nine swings-and-misses from a lineup that looked like it came out of Ken Griffey, Jr. Presents Major League Baseball for Super Nintendo. Here is the Houston Astros lineup from the 1994 video game:

W. Eisner
S. Ditko
J. Kirby
M. Caniff
W. Gaines
H. Kurtzman
J. Davis
D. Martin

And here is the Astros lineup from Opening Day 2014:

D. Fowler
R. Grossman
J. Altuve
J. Castro
J. Guzman
C. Carter
M. Dominguez
L.J. Hoes
J. Villar

That lineup scored six runs, hit two home runs and had four extra-base hits against an Opening Day starter, who made around $700,000 for his six innings of work. Here’s what that starter has now done in six Opening Day starts with the Yankees.

April 6, 2009 @ BAL: 4.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 5 BB, 0 K

April 4, 2010 @ BOS: 5.1 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 4 K

March 31, 2011 vs. DET: 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K

April 6, 2012 @ TB: 6 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 7 K

April 1, 2013 vs. BOS: 5 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 R, 4 BB, 5 K

April 1, 2014 @ HOU: 6 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 6 K

Sabathia has pitched well in one of the six starts (2011) and has been awful in the other five. But Tuesday should have come as no surprise as he has just one win and a 6.12 ERA in 11 Opening Day starts (five with Cleveland). So I shouldn’t be mad at Sabathia for his Game 1 egg, but rather at myself for believing that this Opening Day would be different from the other five he has started for the Yankees, especially now that he’s no longer a power pitcher.

But for as bad as Tuesday night was and it was really bad, there was some positive news from Opening Day. No, I’m not talking about Derek Jeter’s Jeterian single off Chad Qualls or Mark Teixeira showing signs of life at the plate or the work of Dellin Betances and Vidal Nuno. I’m talking about Eduardo Nunez being designated for assignment.

Nunez will always hold a special place in my baseball life (and it’s not a good kind of special place) because he (along with Brian Cashman) cost me Cliff Lee. Yes, the trade that never happened is more on Cashman for believing that Nunez projected as an everyday major league player, but I still blame Nunez for being the player he was, even if it wasn’t his fault the Yankees kept trying to make him work out and trying to make him work out around the infield and even the outfield. But if Cashman hadn’t been so high on Nunez and had been willing to let him go four years ago this June, the Yankees would have had Cliff Lee in 2010 and would have gone to the 2010 World Series. That’s a fact. The series was tied 1-1 before his Game 3 dominance, which led to A.J. Burnett’s Game 4 disaster before Sabathia won Game 5. If Lee wins Game 3 for the Yankees, the series is 2-1 in their favor and they need to win just two of the next four to advance to the World Series with Lee, Sabathia and Pettitte available to start three of those four games. The Yankees win the ALCS and go back to the World Series for the second straight year if Cashman gives up Nunez to the Mariners.

Nunez is no longer a member of the Yankees, but Sabathia is and will be through at least 2016 (and possibly 2017 depending on his vesting option). He needs to figure out how to pitch like his so-called best friend in Cliff Lee and his former teammate Andy Pettitte, like I said when I ranked him No. 1 on The 2014 Yankees’ Order of Importance. Maybe the Yankees’ rotation will end up being as deep and as reliable as I think and hope it can be and Sabathia won’t have to be the most important Yankee and then it won’t matter that there’s a chance the Yankees’ rotation was set backwards. The Yankees might not need CC Sabathia to be pre-2013 CC Sabathia if the other four starters can carry the load (that’s not a fat joke since Sabathia is now skinny), but they can’t afford to have him pitch like he did on Tuesday in Houston and become a Phil Hughes-like automatic loss every five days with average stuff and location.

It’s hard not to get upset about an Opening Day loss after waiting so long for baseball to return. It’s even harder to not get upset when your $23 million starting pitcher takes you out of the game in the first inning against a team that finished 51-111 last season. Thankfully, there are 161 more of these. None of them can be this bad.