Morning has barely broken on the new season, and already it's Maalox time for managers.
With two openers yet to be completed, there already have been seven blown saves on opening day. That ties an opening day record, according to baseball-reference.com. Since saves became an official statistic in 1969, only one other time has there been as many as seven blown saves on opening day, and that was in 1994.
Contributing to this historic occasion already are Oakland's Huston Street (March 25 against Boston in Japan), Boston's Kyle Snyder (same game against the A's), Washington's Jon Rauch (Sunday night against the Braves) Cleveland's Rafael Perez, Detroit's Jason Grilli, Kansas City's Brett Tomko and Milwaukee's Eric Gagne (all Monday).
And that's not even counting the Cubs' Kerry Wood, who blew up the 0-0 game in Wrigley Field against Milwaukee on Monday by surrendering three top-of-the-ninth runs. And it's not counting Atlanta's Peter Moylan, who served up Sunday night's bottom-of-the-ninth homer to Washington's Ryan Zimmerman to deal the Braves, who had been tied 2-2, a heartbreaking 3-2 loss.
The three most eyebrow-raising blown games within that group were authored by Gagne, Street and Wood -- for different reasons.
Let's start with Wood, because while that didn't go down as a blown save, it certainly ruined a what should have been a memorable opener featuring the Cubs' newest folk hero, Kosuke Fukudome. For the sake of both the Cubs and manager Lou Piniella, the days of Wood raising the club's hopes and then tossing a banana peel under them must be finished. The Cubs think they're finished. Wood pitched very well in relief late last season and had a very good spring. His final spring test was pitching on consecutive days and working three times in a five-day stretch, both of which he aced.
The biggest question with Wood is whether he stays healthy, and for now, that was answered during the spring. The club believes he will be very successful as a closer. Piniella indicated this spring that set-up man Carlos Marmol would be used as a closer in the event Wood didn't work. But that weakens the club in the seventh and eighth innings.
It's always a mistake to place too much emphasis on one game -- especially if it's opening day, which usually gets an inordinate amount of attention (and, when the cold, raw conditions that were in Chicago make it difficult for a pitcher to grip a baseball). But let's just say this: Wood had better convert his next few save opportunities, or it's going to be panic time in Chicago.
Is it time to panic in Milwaukee with Gagne? I had a long talk with manager Ned Yost about that late this spring as the Brewers were keeping Gagne hidden away on the back fields. And in the couple of 'A' games he did pitch, he looked nothing like his old Cy Young-winning self.
Gagne went 2-0 with 16 saves and a 2.16 ERA in 34 games for Texas last summer before Boston traded for him for the stretch run. Working as a set-up man (and eventually mop-up man) for Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon, Gagne was 2-2 with an alarming 6.75 ERA and no saves in 20 games.
Yost said this spring that he is going with Gagne's Texas stats last summer and completely discounting the Boston performance because: A) As a closer, Gagne is a different breed; B) He wasn't closing in Boston, and, C) Therefore, he didn't have the adrenalin and situations he needed.
That works in theory. But here's the reason why I'm concerned if I'm Milwaukee (which is paying him $10 million in 2008): No, Gagne wasn't closing in Boston. But while he regularly was getting lit up and booed out of Fenway Park, you would think a self-preservation mechanism would have kicked in that would have given Gagne the adrenalin he needed. He never could find it. Nor has he been able to find his old fastball. Where he once jacked it up to 98, 99 m.p.h. in his heyday in Los Angeles, now Gagne's fastball tops out at 92, 93. And there's all kinds of suspicion as to why. You can start by finding his name in the Mitchell Report.
Street probably won't be under as intense a spotlight as Gagne and Wood this season simply because Oakland isn't expected to be in contention. But scouts who saw him in the Cactus League this spring were buzzing about how poorly he threw. There's no indentifiable reason yet but, at this point, it seems clear that something could be up with Street. A hidden injury? A simple slow start? Stay tuned.
Two more openers yet to be competed. And an opening day blown saves record clearly within reach.