Ah, Opening Day!
There's no day like it in all the year.
It's a day of hope, of new beginning. Everyone's in first place, eager, optimistic. Every player and every team is trained and drilled and conditioned to a perfect peak, mentally and physically prepared.
Except for the Padres. Did anybody tell the Padres this was Opening Day? Spring training is over, guys.
The Padres had one base runner picked off, another thrown out at the plate, and wound up their 2-1 loss to the Dodgers Monday afternoon by committing a rare Padre Hat Trick--five mental/physical errors in one half-inning.
Stick that in your highlight film.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. It was a fun, fabulous Opening Day for Dodger fans, and it went something like this:
Pregame . . .
Pedro Guerrero, the injured warrior, is announced to the sellout crowd and emerges from the Dodger dugout, moving slo-o-o-owly.
"Hasn't lost any speed since spring training," one wise guy in the press box comments.
Pedro has been asked to throw out the ceremonial first ball. His teammates and fans are glad to see him, they greet him warmly. Guerrero could've stayed home, so it's nice to see his heart is in the right place, even if his kneecap ligament isn't.
Pedro throws out the ceremonial first ball. Doctors examine his arm and find no rotator cuff damage. He'll be ready to throw in the World Series, if needed.
First inning . . .
Fernando strikes out the Padres leadoff man, Bip Roberts, the tiny rookie second baseman. Contrary to rumors, Bip earned his starting job. The Padres did not put him at second base just to make Steve Garvey feel tall.
The Dodgers leadoff man, Mariano Duncan, slices a high foul down the left-field line. Padre left fielder Carmelo Martinez takes a very casual approach to the ball, which falls on the warning track just inside the grandstand railing.
This must be what Carmelo had in mind when he once said, in regard to playing the outfield, "The only problem I have is with fly balls."
Second inning . . .
Possibly inspired by the decorative red-white-and-blue bunting, Steve Garvey tries to do some. He drops a nice bunt between the mound and the third base line, but Fernando Valenzuela scoops it up and guns Garvey out with an off-balance, fallaway throw to first.
Who says the Dodger infield defense is suspect?
In their half, the Dodgers score an artful run. Mike Marshall walks on a 3-1 pitch. "Last year I would've swang at it," Marshall says later, inventing a new word. "This year I'm more patient."
Franklin Stubbs moves Marshall up with a single, and Steve Sax drives him home with another single.
Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda, who has stopped by the stadium on his way to an evening gig as ringside announcer for Wrestlemania II at the Sports Arena, finds himself presiding over Banjomania I.
With Pedro sidelined, maybe this is the Dodgers' new look. Peck 'em to death.
Fifth inning . . .
Ever notice how everything is magnified on Opening Day, how everything seems to carry a great significance?
When Bill Madlock doubles in the first inning, someone says: "He just might hit .370 this year."
In the fifth, Martinez tries to score from second on a single to left. With no outs.
Franklin Stubbs in left field shoots Martinez down like a fat, low-flying duck, catcher Mike Scioscia applying the tag.
Stubbs was the star of the Freeway Series, now he's got a base hit and a gundown. How the heck is Pedro going to get back into this lineup? Will Pedro be the modern Wally Pipp? Pedro Pipp.
Sixth inning . . .
With one out and Tony Gwynn on second, Fernando whirls and bounces a pickoff throw off Gwynn's back. Gwynn has an excellent chance to scramble to third, but Steve Sax, covering second, clumsily stumbles over Gwynn--oops, sorry, 'scuse me--and prevents him from advancing.
Hulk Hogan should learn this move. It's a major league stumble and takedown, the kind that wins pennants. Gwynn dies at second.
Seventh inning . . .
Hulk Marshall homers to left. Later he claims he's not feeling pressure to make up for Guerrero's absence by hitting homers. Really, there's no pressure on Marshall. One homer a game is all the Dodgers expect from the big fella.
Suddenly, the Dodgers' perfect season unravels at the seams. (See what I mean about overreacting on Opening Day?)
Fernando, leading 2-0, gives up hits to the first two batters. Fortunately for the Dodgers, the Padres out-unravel them, with the following mistakes:
1. Garvey's single should be a double, but he slips rounding first base and has to scramble back and settle for a single. He says that's the first time he's done that in 15 years. Did they move the bag this year? When will they stop tinkering with the grand old game?
2. Padre Manager Steve Boros sends rookie John Kruk to run for Garvey, even though Garvey has OK speed and is a smart runner.
3. The hit-and-run sign is on, but Martinez whiffs.
4. Kruk, faced with the decision of whether to slide hard into second or to hold up and get himself into a rundown to allow the runner on third to score, does neither. He walks into Sax, who tags the runner (walker?) out with his glove while holding the ball in his right hand. The umpires don't notice.
5. Kevin McReynolds, dancing off third, watches the scene but doesn't dash for home, even though Sax's throwing arm is suspect. McReynolds scores anyway, one out later, but I thought I'd throw this in as Error No. 5 just to make the Padres' feel even worse than they already do.
Postgame . . .
"It's good to get the first one out of the way," Hulk Marshall says, tossing out the ceremonial first cliche.
Lasorda jumps into a tux and a limo and heads for the Sports Arena, a happy man. Only 161 to go, and his club is sailing. It's a beautiful day.