By MIKE FERKO
The 2016 Major League Baseball season has officially kicked off as three games were played Sunday, April 3rd. The three games consisted of an NL central rivalry between the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates, an AL East match-up between the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays, and a World Series rematch between the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets.
The first game of the day was hosted by the Pirates at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, who missed most of the 2015 season after suffering a torn achilles, faced off against lefty Francisco Liriano. After a quiet first inning on both sides, the Pirates scored the first run of the 2016 season, as Francisco Liriano helped his own cause with an RBI single. Newly signed first basemen John Jaso knocked in the second run of the game with an RBI base knock in the same inning. Liriano proved that he deserved the opening day start, firing six innings and only giving up three hits and no earned runs while striking out 10. Despite the five walks he surrendered, it was an impressive opening day start for Liriano. Wainwright also threw 6 innings, but surrendered three runs on six hits while only striking out three. A Josh Harrison sacrifice fly and Jordy Mercer RBI double added insurance, yet it was not needed as the Pirates defeated the Cardinals, 4-1.
The Rays played host to the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field for the late afternoon opener. Rays ace Chris Archer toed the rubber, opposed by Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman making his first career opening day start. The Jays picked up right where they left off, as Edwin Encarnacion hit a two run single in the top of the first. Archer got off to this shaky start but settled in quickly, pitching five innings and striking out twelve, despite giving up five hits and walking three. In the 8th inning, Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki blasted a two run homer off of reliever Ryan Webb.
Marcus Stroman dazzled on the mound, pitching into the 9th inning, however, he could not get the job done, as he gave up a solo home run to Rays outfielder Corey Dickerson, followed by a hard hit single by Desmond Jennings. Jays closer Roberto Osuna came in and shut the door, striking out two and earning his first save of the season. The Blue Jays prevailed, winning 5 to 3.
The intriguing night game that fans anticipated all day took place in Kansas City, as the Royals took on the Mets. It is a mind-boggling coincidence how this opening series happened to also be the World Series match-up last year. Pregame festivities included the Royals raising their World Series pennant and select players winning awards from last year, all while the runner-up Mets had to watch the celebration. The starting match-up was the same as both World Series Games 1 and 5; the Mets brought out Matt Harvey, and the Royals sent Edinson Volquez to the mound.
In the bottom half of the first inning, Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas hit a line drive to left field that Yoenis Cespedes had lined up, but he ended up dropping the seemingly easy liner. This error led to the Royals’ first run. They scored one more in the fourth and two more in the sixth, knocking Harvey out of the game after 5.2 innings pitched. Volquez went six superb innings, allowing two hits and three walks while striking out five. After being shutout for the first seven innings, the Mets began to mount a comeback. A two-run single by Mets first baseman Lucas Duda and an RBI fielder’s choice by second baseman Neil Walker made it a 4-3 game. Fortunately for Royals fans, closer Wade Davis got the save in the ninth, and the Royals won their first game of the year by a 4-3 score.
With these three games in the books, the season is officially underway; baseball fans may come out of hibernation and rejoice.