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.

Seattle's Felix Hernandez vs. Oakland (8 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 12 K)
Joins elite list of pitchers to whiff a dozen batters on Opening Day since 1975: Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson, J.R. Richard, Randy Johnson (twice), and Pedro Martinez.
Milwaukee's Ben Sheets vs. LA Dodgers (9 IP, 1 R, 2 H, 3 K)
The third pitcher in the last 25 years to pitch an Opening Day complete game, allowing two hits or fewer, joining former Braves Tom Glavine (1992) and Rick Mahler (1982).
Kansas City's Gil Meche vs. Boston (7 1/3 IP, 1 R, 6 H, 6 K)
He only had three starts last season in which he lasted seven or more innings and allowed only one or no runs. And one of those outings was against the Royals.
Cinncinati's Aaron Harang vs. Chicago Cubs (7 IP, 1 R, 6 H, 5 K)
Compare this to his Opening Day start last season, in which he allowed nine runs in five innings. The lineup he faced Monday included six players he faced in that '06 start.
Atlanta's bullpen vs. Philadelphia (4 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 4 K)
Also worth comparing to last season, when the Dodgers tagged six Braves relievers for five runs and 11 hits in five innings. No one who pitched Monday pitched in that '06 game.


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.

Daisuke Matsuzaka

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.

• 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.

Randy Wolf

• 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.

Tuesday's complete list of probable starters

• 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.

• Complete Elias Says

Adam Dunn's two homers power Reds to win.
Edgar Renteria Edgar Renteria hit two home runs in the Braves' season-opening win over the Phillies.

His first homer came in the eighth inning, a solo blast that tied the game at 3-3. He then smacked a two-run shot in the 10th inning to lift Atlanta to a 5-3 victory.

Miguel Cabrera Miguel Cabrera went 3-for-4, including a two-run home run and a two-run double, in the Marlins' 9-2 victory over the Nationals.
Curt Schilling Curt Schilling was roughed up, allowing five runs on eight hits in four innings in the Red Sox's 7-1 loss to the Royals. The outing was Schilling's shortest regular-season start in nearly a decade.
Jose Contreras Jose Contreras was clobbered, giving up eight runs -- seven earned -- in one-plus inning, as the White Sox were pounded by the Indians 12-5. Contreras allowed seven hits, including three extra-base hits.
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
The sign says it all as baseball gets under way.
"It was fun. It was great. It was everything I expected it to be."
-- Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez on his first win as a big-league manager
Justin Morneau and Twins rally past Orioles.
• Nationals CF Nook Logan injured his left foot after getting it caught in the padding of the outfield wall while making a catch and left the game against the Marlins in the fourth inning. The Nationals said Logan was having X-rays and will be evaluated by a team doctor.

Ramon Hernandez • Orioles C Ramon Hernandez was scratched from the lineup Monday because of a strained left oblique muscle. Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo suggested before the game that Hernandez could be in the lineup later this week.

• The Rockies signed general manager Dan O'Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle to two-year extensions through the 2009 season.

• Pete Rose, who is honored by a special exhibit at the Reds' Hall of Fame, watched the Cubs-Reds game at Great American Ball Park from a seat behind home plate. Rose has attended several games in Cincinnati since his lifetime banishment for gambling in 1989.

Roy Halladay • Roy Halladay made his fifth straight start on Opening Day for the Blue Jays, breaking the franchise record he shared with Dave Stieb.

• Roy Oswalt is tied with J.R. Richard, Mike Scott and Shane Reynolds for the most consecutive Opening Day starts (five) in Astros franchise history.



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