The Ten Best Opening Days in Royals History
Opening Day is upon us, and every year, for at least one day, our Royals are in first place. Opening Day is a tremendously exciting day for baseball fans. Teams break out their pomp and circumstance. Celebrities and dignitaries throw out the first pitch. Every team has at least a little bit of hope for the season. The season hasn't been trampled upon by a parade of subpar relief pitchers or 2-8 West Coast roadtrips. Young players all have potential. Veterans haven't gotten hurt yet.
My All-Time "That Guy Started on Opening Day?" Team
C Hector Ortiz (2001)
1B Chuck Harrison (1969)
2B Luis Alcaraz (1970)
3B Keith Miller (1993)
SS Bobby Floyd (1972) or Felix Martinez (1998)
LF Aaron Guiel (2004)
Note: Why the heck did the Royals start so many guys in left field on Opening Day out of position? All of these guys were known for playing another position, but were pressed into outfield duty on Opening Day: Ed Kirkpatrick (1969), Pete LaCock (1980), Bip Roberts (1997), Hal Morris (1998), Ross Gload (2007)
CF Steve Hovley (1972)
RF Larry Sutton (1998) or Brandon Berger (2003)
DH Dave Nelson (1976) or Cal Pickering (2005)
SP Jose Lima (2005)
If it seems as if the Royals have historically fared badly on Opening Day, that's because they have. They're just 14-25 on Opening Day, easily the worst percentage in baseball. That just means the Royals are due this year, right?
So while the Royals are still sitting in first place, unblemished for the season, let's take a look at their top ten Opening Days.
10. 2007 - Royals 7 Red Sox 1
Light hitting rookie shortstop Tony Pena Jr. smacked two triples and perhaps even more surprisingly, walked, as the Royals romped over the Red Sox 7-1. Big money free agent Gil Meche got off to a shaky start in a Royals uniform, getting in a jam and allowing one run in the first inning. But the Royals came back to knock around Boston starter Curt Schilling for five runs in four innings. Mark Grudzielanek had three hits and three RBI, and John Buck doubled and homered in the offensive onslaught. Meche overcame his shaky first by retiring 18 of the next 20 hitters, and leaving in the eighth to a standing ovation in front of a capacity crowd.
9. 1983 - Royals 7 Orioles 2
The Royals opened up 1983 in Baltimore against a team that had won 94 games the previous summer, and would go on to win the World Series that fall. But things went wrong for the Orioles on Opening Day from the get-go. The team mascot jumped out of a plane in a parachute, hoping to land on the pitchers mound as he had in rehearsal. High winds that day carried him over the bleachers and out of the stadium to the horror of the 50,000 fans that packed Municipal Stadium. It would be a portend of things to come
Baltimore outfielder Dan Ford dropped an easy fly ball to score the first Royals run in the opening frame. George Brett would hit a two run home run in the third to give the Royals a 3-1 lead. Willie Aikens added a solo home run in the sixth, but the floodgates would open in the seventh. An error by rookie shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. would allow Amos Otis and Hal McRae to follow up with RBI hits. Veteran outfielder Jerry Martin would cap off the Royals performance with a solo home run in the eighth, the third Royals blast that day.
8. 1985 - Royals 2 Blue Jays 1
Little did anyone know that these two teams would be meeting again that October to decide the AL pennant. A record crowd jammed into Royals Stadium to see the Royals defend their AL West title, but it looked like the Jays would walk away with a victory after Toronto starter Dave Stieb cruised through the first six innings with a 1-0 lead. Daryl Motley led off the seventh with a double, advancing to third on a Frank White flyball. After a Dane Iorg strikeout, Stieb hit shortstop Onix Concepcion with a pitch. Willie Wilson then laced a fly ball into left field that George Bell misplayed badly, leading to a two run double and blowing a great outing by Stieb. Bud Black nearly matched Stieb in performance, allowing just one run over seven plus innings before yielding to Dan Quisenberry, who recorded the final four outs to preserve the win.
7. 1972 - Royals 2 White Sox 1
The young Royals were coming off their first winning season and were opening what would be their last season in Municipal Stadium at 22nd and Brooklyn. This was still a dead ball era, and the teams were scoreless heading into the ninth. Dick Allen led off the inning with a home run off starter Dick Drago to give the White Sox a 1-0 lead. But Bob Oliver, the slugger who had a disappointing 1971 season, homered in the bottom of the inning off White Sox knuckleballer Wilbur Wood.
The game went into extra frames and Chicago threatened to score in the tenth with two runners on base. Reliever Tom Burgmeier managed his way out of the jam, and pitched a perfect tenth. In the bottom of the eleventh, third baseman Paul Schaal led off with a walk, reaching second on a wild pitch. After Cookie Rojas sacrificed him to third, Lou Piniella fouled out, leaving it to newly acquired first baseman John Mayberry. Mayberry was quickly welcomed to Kansas City when he singled Schaal home to win the game.
6. 1979 - Royals 11 Blue Jays 2
It was David vs. Goliath on Opening Day, as the defending AL West winning Royals hosted the 102 loss Blue Jays. The only problem was David forgot his rock. The Royals made things ugly early, with John Wathan hitting a bases-clearing triple to score three runs in the second inning. Fred Patek followed with an RBI single. The Royals scored two more when Jays second baseman Dave McKay misplayed an Amos Otis ground ball. Hal McRae and Darrell Porter both added RBI hits. When the smoke cleared, the Royals led 9-0 - after just two innings. The Royals went on to cruise to an 11-2 victory with Dennis Leonard allowing just two unearned runs in six innings.
5. 1984 - Royals 4 Yankees 2
The Royals and Yankees had a fierce rivalry that dated back to 70s, when the two teams met four times in the American League Championship Series. However, many of the Royals stars from those teams were either long gone or injured. The Royals limped into the season opener without All-Stars Dennis Leonard or George Brett, both on the disabled list. They were also missing All-Star outfielder Willie Wilson, serving a suspension for his federal drug indictment. The Royals brought a young team to Kansas City that day to face Yankees ace Ron Guidry.
Undaunted, light hitting shortstop Onix Concepcion led off the bottom of the first by hitting the first pitch he saw out of the ballpark for his first Major League home run. It would be his only home run all season, but it would give the Royals a 1-0 lead. Steve Balboni would single home Frank White to give the Royals a 2-0 lead. Daryl Motley tripled in the fourth, and would score on a Don Slaught sacrifice fly to extend the lead to 3-0. Swingman Bud Black, pressed into service on Opening Day, would retire the first twelve Yankee hitters that day. He kept New York off the board until Dave Winfield's two run home run in the fifth. But the Yankees get no closer and Dan Quisenberry would pitch two scoreless innings to preserve the victory, and put new Yankees manager Yogi Berra on the hot seat.
4. 1995 - Royals 5 Orioles 1
The Royals had to work hard to attract fans following the strike and the trading of veterans David Cone and Brian McRae. They offered free general admission tickets to the opener, but still drew just 24,000 fans, the smallest Opening Day crowd in over a decade. The fans that came saw a gem. Kevin Appier, the most underrated pitcher of the 90s, dominated the Orioles that day. It was an Appier start, which meant the Royals would have trouble scoring runs. Baltimore starter Mike Mussina kept the Royals off the board for five innings before being pulled. In the sixth, Tom Goodwin blooped a single off reliever Jaime Moyer, but seemed to be picked off when Moyer caught him leaning. However he made it successfully to second and advanced to third on a throwing error by first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. Wally Joyner singled him home to get the Royals on the board. Rookie slugger Bob Hamelin would follow with an RBI double to extend the lead to 2-0.
That would be all the run support Appier would need. He had a no-hitter through six innings, despite having a shortened spring training to prepare. He induced Palmeiro to pop out and struck out Cal Ripken, but had reached 98 pitches. First year manager Bob Boone walked out of the dugout to a chorus of boos to pull his starter.
"You think managing isn't hard? It takes guts. I was afraid to go out there. I thought Kevin would choke me. But he had gotten a lot of tough outs and had thrown a lot of pitches."
-Manager Bob Boone
Reliever Rusty Meachem would replace Appier and give up a single to Leo Gomez with one out in the eighth. The Royals would go on to win 5-1, but Boone had deprived Appier of becoming the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter on Opening Day since Bob Feller in 1940. It would not be the first time his decisions would be roundly booed.
"60% of the time, my moves work every time."
3. 2003 - Royals 3 White Sox 0
No one that day knew it, but this game would be the start of an amazing run by the Royals. They would win nine straight to start the year, and sixteen of their first nineteen to give them a first place they would not relinquish until September. Runelvys Hernandez got the opening day assignment, and for at least one day, he was dominating. He allowed just two hits and a walk, while striking out five in six shutout innings, needing just 77 pitches. An RBI single by rookie Angel Berroa in the second would be all the Royals would need as they cruised to an efficient 3-0 victory.
"Hey, we believe."
2. 2004 - Royals 9 White Sox 7
The Royals had a lot of optimism heading into 2004 after their improbable run the previous season. Some of that optimism was doused in the second inning when starter Brian Anderson gave up four runs to the rival White Sox. The White Sox led 7-3 heading into the ninth and it looked like the capacity home crowd would have to head home with a loss. Joe Randa led off the ninth with an innocent walk. Ken Harvey, a bit of a free swinger, followed him up with another walk. The White Sox decided to stop messing around and brought in closer Billy Koch to end things. Benito Santiago, brought in by Allard Baird as a free agent that winter, doubled to score Randa and give Royals fans hope for a comeback.
That brought up light-hitting utility infielder Mendy Lopez, a long shot to even make the club. He had been brought in as a defensive replacement after Matt Stairs had pinch hit for Tony Graffanino. Lopez slammed a pitch over the fence for a three run home run to tie the game. After an Angel Berroa single, Carlos Beltran deposited the Billy Koch fastball over the left field fence for a walk-off two run home run, giving the Royals the 9-7 win.
"I will remember this day for the rest of my life."
1. 1969 - Royals 4 Twins 3
The first Opening Day in Royals history was easily its most significant, if not also the most exciting. After a year without baseball, the Royals brought the Majors back to Kansas City. The stands were filled with dignitaries including American League President Joe Cronin. Jerry Adair, one of the few veterans on the Royals ballclub, drove home the first run in franchise history when he singled home Lou Piniella, who would go on to win Rookie of the Year. Starting pitcher Tom Burgmeier kept his team in the ballgame, but the Royals trailed 3-1 heading into the bottom of the sixth. Light hitting catcher Jim Campanis, brought in to pinch hit for Burgmeier, singled home a run to pull the Royals within a run. Lou Piniella followed up with his fourth hit of the day, a run scoring single that tied the game.
Neither team would put up much of an offensive threat the next few frames on a cold April afternoon. In the bottom of the twelfth, with one out, third baseman Joe Foy singled off Joe Grzenda. The Twins would then fall apart. Foy reached second on a passed ball, leading Twins manager Billy Martin to intentionally walk Chuck Harrison. When yet another passed ball allowed Foy to reach third, Martin had Bob Oliver intentionally walked to load the bases and set up a force out at home.
Joe Keough, a light hitting first baseman, had been sitting on the bench in the cold for nearly four hours by this point. Royals manager Joe Gordon called on him to hit for catcher Ellie Rodriguez. Keough would hit just .187 that season, but he would be a hero for a day. He singled off Grzenda to score Foy and give the Royals their first win in franchise history.
Let's hope the 2008 Royals give us more memories to cherish. GO ROYALS!