On Wednesday, I overheard someone ask, “When is Opening Day?” When is Opening Day? When is Opening Day?! WHEN IS OPENING DAY?! I couldn’t understand how someone couldn’t know when Opening Day is. It’s a day I know as soon as the schedule is announced during the prior season. It’s a day I count down to. It’s a day I eagerly and anxiously wait for. Every year.
This offseason seemed to go by incredibly fast. Maybe it’s because the Yankees gave us a somewhat extended postseason run into late October. Maybe it’s because of the mild winter we had. Maybe it’s because I have a two-and-a-half-year-old and an 11-month-old that I’m trying to keep alive every day. I don’t know what it is, but it feels like I was just walking out of Yankee Stadium during (yes, during) Game 3 of the ALCS knowing I wouldn’t be returning to it until this season.
A year ago on Opening Day, Gerrit Cole laid a first-inning egg against the Red Sox, the way he always lays an egg against the Red Sox, and the Yankees had to overcome an early hole on their way to a walkoff win. On this Opening Day, Cole walked the first batter of the game on four pitches for the second consecutive season, and I began to wonder if that was an ominous sign for the season.
Cole wasn’t hurt by that walk though. Instead, he struck out the side. The only thing that he would hurt in the game would be his pitch count as he racked up strikeout after strikeout, which left me yearning for the chance for the Yankees to compete in the NL West rather than the AL East with this type of competition. Cole would go on to dominate the feeble Giants offense, striking out 11 and setting the Yankees’ Opening Day strikeout record. It was as dominant a pitching line as Cole has put together as a Yankee, even if his stuff didn’t look as sharp as it can be when he’s completely on.
If you had to pick a pitcher to beat these Yankees, Logan Webb would probably be that pitcher. Everything he does well as a pitcher combats what the Yankees do well as an offense. As a hard-throwing righty who doesn’t allow home runs, he would face a nearly-all-right-handed lineup on Thursday wanting to hit home runs. Like Cole, Webb was really good, striking out 12 in six innings, but the Yankees were able to do exactly what they wanted to do against him and what they want to do against every pitcher: hit home runs.
I kept thinking on Thursday what if Aaron Judge were batting in the top of the first for the Giants at the Stadium instead of in the bottom of the first for the Yankees. It was close to happening and for a few minutes on December 6, we all thought it was going to happen. Thankfully, Judge is a Yankee, and thankfully, he was there batting second on Thursday and driving a Webb sinker into Monument Park. Webb had to be thinking, “What the fuck just happened?” because Webb doesn’t allow home runs (just 11 in 192 1/3 innings last year), and certainly not home runs like that.
It took until the bottom of the third inning for Anthony Volpe to get his first major-league plate appearance. The rookie shortstop swung at the first pitch he saw (very Derek Jeter-esque), and ended up drawing a seven-pitch walk, in which he saw five balls, but unfortunately, Laz Diaz was the home plate umpire. Once on base, everyone knew Volpe was going to run, including Webb, who threw over to first with Volpe standing on the base. Volpe did run, did steal second and looked every bit like a major leaguer in his debut. He made a nice play off-balance on a slow roller on the infield grass and turned a perfect double play with DJ LeMahieu later in the game. To think, just five months ago Yankees fans had to watch Isiah Kiner-Falefa play shortstop every day.
With one out in the bottom of the fourth, the Yankees were still holding a 1-0 lead and the game under that opened at 7.5 and closed at 6.5 looked like it should have been set at 4.5 or even 3.5 To that point in the game, there were two hits and 17 strikeouts. Despite all the rule changes, it looked exactly like a Yankees game from the past. The game was flying by, but it wasn’t because of the pitch clock. It was because no one was putting the ball in play. There had been just two hits in the game through 4 1/3 innings.
Josh Donaldson changed that with a single on a ground ball to left field before Gleyber Torres extended the one-run lead to three with a two-run home run to right-center. I have been an advocate for trading Torres since the end of the 2021 season, but like I wrote in Yankees Thoughts earlier in the week: I’m fine with Torres being a Yankee, but feel like he should no longer be a Yankee. If he remains a Yankee, so be it. If he’s traded, so be it.
It would be hard to argue for the Giants having had a real threat in the game. They had the walk to lead off the game. They had a runner on second with two outs in the second. They had a leadoff walk in the fourth. They had a runner on second with one out in the seventh. Those were their “threats” for the day. The only threat was that of Cole giving up his pair of home runs that he seems to allow every start, and those home runs never came. Instead the Giants were held to four singles (two from ex-Yankee Thairo Estrada who continued the theme of every ex-Yankee playing well against them), and they never had multiple baserunners in any inning. That’s likely to happen often this season for the Giants, who have Wilmer Flores batting third.
Aaron Boone didn’t have to do anything. He got to stand in the dugout, chew his gum and play with his oversized watch. That’s how I wish every Yankees game would go. Cole gave them six shutout innings, the bullpen added three more shutout innings and the offense did enough to get the win. Boone never had to interject himself on Thursday, and any reliever he called on would have likely shut down the Giants, including Albert Abreu. But it was Wandy Peralta, Jonathan Loaisiga and Ron Marinaccio who did it in on Opening Day. (It was very odd that Boone had Loaisiga only throw two pitches and get one out and then asked Marinaccio to pitch two innings and throw the most pitches he has ever thrown in a game.)
It was as good a Yankees Opening Day win as you could ask for. Cole dominated, Judge did what he does, Volpe looked like he belongs, Torres continued with his returned power from last season and the bullpen was as good as expected. The only Yankee who went home feeling down was Oswaldo Cabrera after going 0-for-4 with strikeouts. I’m not worried about Cabrera, but you just know Boone will now likely play Aaron Hicks in left on Saturday. I would have mentioned Hicks as feeling down for not being in the starting lineup or playing on Opening Day, if not for his comments last season about playing time: “If I’m a guy that’s in the lineup, cool. If I’m not, it is what it is.”
Opening Day always feels more important than other regular-season games, even if it holds the same value as the other 161 regular-season games. It feels like a playoff game. And because of that, there’s nothing worse than an Opening Day loss especially with the scheduled day off following. But there’s also nothing better than an Opening Day win, and there wasn’t anything better on Thursday.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!