Like any good baseball fan, I love Opening Day. I don't want to get too sentimental about it, because Opening Day was yesterday, and because hackneyed and emotional baseball-as-rebirth metaphors have a shelf life of about an hour. Suffice to say, I did my duty as a baseball lover with no overhead and limited responsibilities: I played a little hookie and watched a lot of baseball. It was fantastic.
Opening Day, however, isn't really like the rest of the season. For as much as the die-hards have awaited baseball's return, in many respects, Opening Day is an occasion for the casual fan. It's one of the few times a year that the entire fanbase will be watching the game and frankly, it's easy to get excited for baseball when the sport does its best impersonation of the NCAA basketball tournament. Parades are thrown, games are played throughout the day, and each team throws their ace in front of a packed house.* For one day, at least, baseball steals the show.
But baseball isn't a game that rewards emotional highs and momentum surges. Not at the major league level. We hear so often that baseball is a grind, and it's true. To play or watch 162 games over six months is a commitment, and it's no wonder that even the professionals feel burned out from time to time. I love the grind and wouldn't want it any other way, but the daily routine of a professional baseball season differs markedly from the pageantry that marks the first game of the new season. The sell-out Opening Day crowds prove that people love baseball enough to watch terrible teams in near-freezing weather; the sizably smaller gatherings on ensuing evenings demonstrate that fewer love the game enough to do it twice.
No team embodies this dichotomy better than the Seattle Mariners. The M's, as you probably know, have had a measure of recent success on Opening Day, winning their last seven season openers. As you undoubtedly also know, the M's haven't followed up those performances particularly well, finishing in last place four times during that span.
A quick look back at the second game of past seasons reveals that it follows the rhythms of the franchise better than the opener. Opening Day is Felix Hernandez shutting out Oakland, Ichiro going 4-5 in front of his adoring countrymen, and Rob Johnson/Chone Figgins circling the bases after a dinger. Day 2 is Josh Hamilton homering off of J.J. Putz, the A's walking off against Kanekoa Texeira, and Ichiro finishing 0-4 in front of his still adoring countrymen. One feels quite a bit more familiar than the other.
Because these games stand out quite a bit less than the season openers of years, past, I thought it might be fun to take a quick look at game two of each of the past six seasons, and to talk a little about what it means:
Result: 8-4 win over Oakland.
Starter: Jarrod Washburn.
Biggest WPA moment: Yuniesky Betancourt's seventh inning homer broke a 4-4 tie, +28%.
He played?: Jason Ellison pinch ran; Chris Reitsma threw a rare shutout inning.
Lasting impression: Richie Sexson's second homer in two games fueled the impression that Big Richie had a big season in store. Not quite.
Result: 5-4 loss to Texas.
Biggest WPA moment: Josh Hamilton's homer in the ninth turned a 4-3 lead into a 5-4 deficit, -62%.
He played?: Brad Wilkerson started in right field; Charlton Jimerson pinch ran.
Lasting impression: Hamilton's bomb off Putz stole a win after the M's had come from behind in the bottom of the eighth. In my mind, that one swing simultaneously announced Hamilton's arrival in the division and began the implosion that was the 2008 season for Seattle.
Result: 6-5 loss to Minnesota.
Starter: Erik Bedard
Biggest WPA moment: Alexi Casilla's ninth inning single turned a 5-4 lead into a 6-5 loss, -72%. After Brandon Morrow retired the first two hitters in the ninth, Minnesota's offensive sequence went: walk, walk, walk, (Miguel Batista comes in to pitch) single, single. Ballgame.
He played?: Roy Corcoran threw two scoreless innings. I miss Roy Corcoran.
Lasting impression: Brandon Morrow in the bullpen was pretty much the worst thing ever.
Result: 2-1 loss to Oakland.
Starter: Ian Snell.
Biggest WPA moment: Mark Ellis knocked in the winning run with his tenth inning single off Texeira, -39%.
He played?: Eric Byrnes started in left field.
Lasting impression: Hey this Ian Snell in the rotation thing may work out!
Result: 5-2 win over Oakland.
Starter: Jason Vargas.
Biggest WPA moment: Ichiro singled to first in the ninth, causing the A's to throw the ball all over the field for the second night in a row, +20%.
He played?: Jack Wilson started at second, Chris Ray pitched a meaningful inning.
Lasting Impression: Chone Figgins is back baby! After two games, Figgins was 3-9 with two extra base hits.
Result: 4-1 loss to Oakland.
Biggest WPA moment: A seventh inning Yoenis Cespedes homer erased a 1-0 lead, -47%.
He played?: George Sherrill.
Lasting impression: None, because nobody stayed up to watch the second game of the 2012 season.
What does all of that mean for tonight? Nothing, really. Like with the opener, game two isn't indicative of anything either (other than that the Mariner rotation drops off significantly after Felix Hernandez). Hisashi Iwakuma will start and become the fifth Mariner pitcher to toss the second game of the year since 2007. The Mariners will try to go 2-0, which they have a roughly 50% chance of achieving. Ultimately though, tonight's game is just the first night of the rest of the season, the second game in the long grind that is a baseball season. For as much as I looked forward to Opening Day, it's this day-to-day beat of the season that really announces the return of baseball for me. I can't wait to get to it.