Opening Day is like a microcosm of an emotion-filled baseball season. There are high highs when your squad gets that all-important (at least symbolically) first win. Sometimes, there are low lows when an offseason of hopes and dreams seems to crumble before your eyes (sorry, Cubs fans). Expectations soar, optimism and pessimism are tossed back and forth like it’s a game of hot potato, and judgments are made with an unfounded sense of certainty on day 1 of 162.
Truth is, Opening Day can only ever be a taste test, with the five-course meal still to come. But, “It wasn’t bad for one game” doesn’t make room for much analysis. So instead, let’s look at some key takeaways from Sunday night’s opener.
1. Oh, HEY, Jason
If there’s one guy who could have felt an enormous amount of pressure to succeed immediately, it was Jason Heyward. All offseason he was touted as the cure-all for the underperforming lineup. All the talk about wanting Heyward to play with the kind of freedom he’d not had the last two seasons with the Braves could have had the reverse affect. Instead, he did everything Cardinals fans wanted him to do (save hitting a trio of home runs). He notched the first hit of the regular season for the Birds, as well as the first run on his way to a 3-for-5 night with a pair of doubles. That’ll do, Jason. That’ll do.
2. Waino’s Still Waino
It’s no secret that Adam Wainwright loves a big moment. It’s also no surprise, though, when he lets the size of the moment dictate his early success. Opening Days, playoff games — we’ve seen the ace press too hard when the moment means so much. Early on Sunday night, it looked as if Waino was fighting that tendency just a bit. It wasn’t easy, especially against a Cubs lineup that, if they do one thing well, it’s hit mistakes. Despite allowing 5-of-6 leadoff hitters to reach base, Wainwright made big pitch after big pitch to keep the Cubs off the board. That’s good news for the leader of the rotation, because even without his best stuff, he was able to get the job done.
3. Yadi The Pitcher Whisperer
It was kind of a rough night for the All-Star catcher. The 0-for-2 at the plate with a pair of strikeouts didn’t look pretty. Neither did the passed ball from Carlos Martinez in the 7th inning. But, go back to the 1st and 2nd innings when Wainwright was under pressure from allowing leadoff doubles. Yadier Molina is given endless credit for his work in guiding young pitchers for St. Louis, but he did a masterful job of willing Waino through the early trouble as well. No one knows the Cardinals #1 better than Yadi, and it was evident how much the pitcher depended on the catcher as both settled into a groove. Yadi’s going to get his share of hits. He’s going to throw out his share of runners. But his highest value will always be what he showed, once again, behind the plate on Opening Night.
4. Carlos “Changeup” Martinez
The idea to use the 5th starter in relief in game one provided plenty of debate. A 7-pitch walk to Arismendy Alcantara didn’t help his case, nor did Curt Schilling’s decidedly unimpressed analysis of Martinez’s mechanics. But then he threw that changeup. Three in a row to Miguel Montero, actually. “Baby Pedro” has much to prove as he settles into a rotation spot. But that changeup can cover a multitude of sins. Just watch it. (Thanks, Pitcher List.)
5. Rosey’s Invisible Man
They say a joke is only truly funny when it’s based in truth. Last season, the running joke was that closer Trevor Rosenthal needed to begin every inning as if there was already a runner on 1st base, in order to not walk the leadoff guy. A cardboard cutout runner was even suggested … in jest, mostly. Turns out, the joke wasn’t far off. Rosenthal, at the urging of the coaching staff, abandoned the windup in the spring games, opting instead for pitching solely from the stretch — which he did previously, of course, when there was a runner on base. The invisible runner theory wasn’t entirely unfounded, although the problem appears to be more mechanical than mental after all. Hey, man. Whatever works. The offer for the cardboard cutout still stands, though a few more 1-2-3 innings like Sunday, and it may not be necessary.
Bonus Takeaway: It wasn’t just pitching that told the Opening Night story. Stealing 4 bases against Jon Lester and the Chicago Cubs isn’t necessarily a sign of what’s to come against, well, pitchers not afraid to throw to bases. But, it’s something. It’s more than we’ve seen from the Cardinals in years. With the likes of Peter Bourjos, Kolten Wong, and Heyward with solid base stealing abilities, will we truly — finally! — see the return of a real-life running game?
And that’s just game one, baseball fans. The main course is on its way. Pass the salt, would you?