BASEBALL TONIGHT EXTRA
Dazzling efforts on the hill
Sometimes you wonder on Opening Day whether the pitchers are ahead of the hitters, or the hitters are ahead of the pitchers. Well, there were a few places in the baseball world Monday where there was no doubt who was dominating.
Stop first in Seattle, where Felix Hernandez put himself in extremely elite company, with an Opening Day effort that evoked names like Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, and an in-their-prime Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez.
Next go to Milwaukee, where Ben Sheets was virtually unhittable and made the Dodgers' lineup look rather meek in its 2007 debut.
The day was also good for a couple of surprises, like in Kansas City, where Gil Meche proved his worth with one of the best showings of his career against the Red Sox. At least for one day, Royals fans can feel good about their future.
Aaron Harang's effort for the Reds wasn't totally a shock, based on how he fared last season. But compared to his appearance last Opening Day against the same Cubs, it was mighty impressive. You would have thought Johan Santana or Dontrelle Willis would have cracked this list, but their performances, compared to the ones mentioned, were rather ordinary, even in victory.
The day wasn't just limited to starting strong. Finishing proved to be key too (just ask Brad Lidge and the Astros). The best relief effort belonged to the Braves, who received four shutout innings from their bullpen, allowing Edgar Renteria to provide some late heroics in an extra-inning win. It was a major relief for many of these teams to open the season on a high note.
RED SOX HANDLING DICE-K JUST RIGHT
For the first month of the season, every game will be a road game for Daisuke Matsuzaka because he's not even familiar with the surroundings at Fenway Park. Making his first start of the season on Thursday in Kansas City will be a perfect situation for him.
His biggest problem will be resisting the temptation of trying to strike everybody out; there will be times when he goes out there and has to get hitters out in ways other than the strikeout. The big edge that Matsuzaka has over a lot of pitchers going to new teams is having Jason Varitek as his catcher. If you're named captain of the Boston Red Sox, there's something special about you as a teammate. Varitek's knowledge of the league is going to be extremely important to Matsuzaka, particularly the first time around the league. Then, as all good pitchers do, Matsuzaka will start getting his own ideas.
What Red Sox manager Terry Francona has done, slotting Matsuzaka in as the No. 3 starter, is equally important. By moving Matsuzaka back to the third spot in the rotation, he will be facing every other team's No. 3 starter; therefore, he'll probably get more runs to work with. Daisuke might end up being the Sox's No. 1 starter, but having him third in the rotation is the right move to start the season.
The real key to the Red Sox could be Josh Beckett. I look for him to have a monster year. A No. 1 pitcher does two things for a team: He throws a lot of innings, which keeps a team's bullpen fresh, and wins at least 10 more games than he loses. Beckett has the ability and I think this is the season he could get over that hump. He needs to for the Red Sox to get into the postseason.
FORWARD THINKING: TUESDAY
• Padres at Giants, 4:05 p.m. ET: Jake Peavy squares off against Barry Zito in the season opener for both teams. Peavy was 2-3 with a 4.41 ERA against the Giants last season. Zito faced the Padres once last year, going 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA.
• Dodgers at Brewers, 8:05 p.m. ET: Randy Wolf makes his debut for L.A. after pitching the first eight years of his career with the Phillies. Chris Capuano will counter for Milwaukee. He was 8-4 with a 3.43 ERA in 16 starts at home last season.
• A's at Mariners, 10:05 p.m. ET: Joe Blanton was dominant in four starts against the Mariners last season (4-0, 1.55). Jarrod Washburn limited batters to a .245 average in 15 starts at home last season.
• Elijah Dukes' first major league hit was a home run on Opening Day. It's the fourth straight season in which a player's first major league hit was an Opening Day home run. Kaz Matsui did it for the Mets in 2004, Jeff Baker for the Rockies in 2005 and Kenji Johjima for the Mariners in 2006.