Whenever the time comes this year, I will have covered 42 consecutive Cardinals opening-day games. The Cardinals’ record in the first 41 has been a modest 21-20.
Having seen the Cardinals open a season at virtually every park in the league, there is no question that the Cardinals’ first-day carnival of events and cavalcade of former and current stars is second to none. The Cardinals players, almost to a man, talk of the adrenaline rush that comes from an opener here, but the same feeling exists on the road, too, as a wait of six months from the end of the previous season has ended.
The difference is that this year the wait could be more like eight or nine months.
To select a Top 10 of memorable openers is a challenge, but here is a list that covers highlights and a couple of lowlights.
No. 1., 1980: Bobby Bonds, in his lone season with the Cardinals, walked in the second inning and scored the only run of the game on George Hendrick’s two-out double as Pete Vuckovich shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates 1-0 at Busch Stadium.
Vuckovich struck out Tim Foli (who almost never struck out), Dave Parker and Willie Stargell in succession after the Pirates had runners at second and third with nobody out in the ninth.
No. 2, 1998: On his way to 70 home runs, Mark McGwire, in his first opening day in St. Louis, cracked a fifth-inning grand slam off Los Angeles’ Ramon Martinez in a 6-0 Cardinals victory.
To finish the shutout, rookie Braden Looper, who was making his big-league debut, fanned the side in the ninth, encompassing whiffs of Todd Zeile, Raul Mondesi and Paul Konerko.
Looper, who had opened the previous season in Class A, later would move to Florida as barter for shortstop Edgar Renteria, pitch for the 2003 World Series champion Florida Marlins and return to pitch for the 2006 World Series champion Cardinals.
No. 3. 2006: Second baseman Aaron Miles, playing his first game as a Cardinal, had four hits, including a triple and two doubles, in a 13-5 romp at Philadelphia. What made this start to a season even more significant was that the year before, when Miles played for the Colorado Rockies, he had five hits on opening day, including three doubles.
No. 4, 1995: St. Louisan Scott Cooper, playing his first game as a Cardinal, had three hits and knocked in four runs, including the tying and winning runs with a two-out single in the ninth as the Cardinals overcame the Philadelphia Phillies 7-6 at Busch II. But Cooper found the pressures of playing at home daunting and finished his only season with the Cardinals at .230.
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No. 5, 2007: On April 1, there were many festivities celebrating the Cardinals’ World Series title of the year before. For the third consecutive season, Chris Carpenter made the first-day start for the Cardinals. It would be his last big-league start of the season. Carpenter allowed five runs in six innings and encountered an elbow problem.
Carpenter rested it for several weeks before feeling pain again on a rehabilitation assignment and then having to undergo Tommy John surgery, costing him the rest of that season and most of the next one.
No. 6, 1985: Neil Allen, newly installed as the closer after free agent Bruce Sutter had signed with Atlanta, allowed a game-losing, 10th-inning homer to New York’s Gary Carter on opening day of that season. In Game 2 of the series at Shea Stadium, former Met Allen walked in the winning run in a 2-1 loss in 11 innings to the Mets. Allen did not last much longer as the closer as the Cardinals made do with their “bullpen by committee” until Todd Worrell came along in late August of that year.
No. 7, 1994: In the first Sunday Night Baseball game on ESPN in '94, Ray Lankford led off the game with a homer off Cincinnati’s Jose Rijo and starter Bob Tewksbury doubled in two runs as the Cardinals posted a 6-4 victory at Riverfront Stadium. The Cardinals would win only 52 more games before the players went on strike on Aug. 11.
No. 8. 2001: The Cardinals had just five hits in an 8-0 loss to Mike Hampton and the Rockies at Colorado. But the Cardinals’ left fielder singled in his third at-bat for his first major league hit. More than 3,000 hits would follow for Albert Pujols.
Nos. 9 and 9A, 2014-15: Adam Wainwright, pitching seven shutout innings, outdueled the Reds’ Johnny Cueto 1-0 at Cincinnati in 2014. Yadier Molina, the People’s Choice there, homered for the only run in the seventh inning.
Wainwright, working six scoreless innings, was the biggest part of another opening-day shutout in 2015 when he beat Chicago’s Jon Lester 3-0 at Wrigley Field. Newcomer Jason Heyward had three hits for the Cardinals. In 2016, Heyward would be a member of the World Series champion Cubs.
No. 10, 1982: A harbinger of success that season, when the Cardinals would win their first World Series in 15 years, came on Opening Night, April 6, in the Houston Astrodome. Darrell Porter slugged a three-run homer off future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan in a five-run first inning and the Cardinals rolled to a 14-3 victory, pounding out 18 hits and knocking Ryan out in three innings.
There were actually a few Cardinals opening days before my time at the Post-Dispatch. Perhaps the most memorable resulted in a no-decision. The defending World Series champion Cardinals scored five runs in the top of the first at Chicago on April 12, 1965. That should have been enough for future Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, right?
Gibson, making his first start since Game 7 of the 1964 World Series, didn’t get out of the fourth and Hall of Famer Ernie Banks hit a two-run homer off knuckleballer Barney Schultz in the ninth to tie the game. The game wound up in an 11-inning deadlock at 10-10 when darkness interceded at light-less Wrigley Field. Only 19,571 were on hand for the game which also marked the debut of a young Steve Carlton, another future Hall of Famer.
It was one of just three times that Gibson and Carlton pitched in the same game as Cardinals teammates.
And from a historical standpoint, the New York Mets played their first game in Busch Stadium I on April 11, 1962. Hard to believe but the Mets lost 11-4 as Julian Javier had four hits to back Cardinals starter Larry Jackson. Right fielder Stan Musial, playing his next-to-last opening game, had three hits and drove in two runs.
The Mets would get accustomed to this sort of treatment. They would lose 119 more games the remainder of the season and finish a cool 60 ½ games behind first-place San Francisco, as there were no divisions then.
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