The 2019 Major League Baseball season has officially begun. Early Wednesday morning in the U.S., the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics opened the season at the Tokyo Dome. The two AL West rivals are starting the regular season with a pair of games in Japan. They'll then return home to continue their regular seasons next week.
Thanks to a barrage of home runs and a workmanlike outing from Opening Day starter Marco Gonzales, the rebuilding Mariners earned the first win of the 2019 season Wednesday (SEA 9, OAK 7). Seattle has now won 11 of its last 13 season openers. On the flip side, the Athletics have dropped 12 of their last 15 Opening Days. Huh.
This is the first time since 2012 and the fifth time overall the MLB regular season has opened in Japan. It's the second time these two clubs started their regular seasons against each other in the Tokyo Dome. Here are the previous four Japan Series matchups:
- 2000: New York Mets vs. Chicago Cubs
- 2004: New York Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays
- 2008: Boston Red Sox vs. Oakland Athletics
- 2012: Oakland Athletics vs. Seattle Mariners
All four previous Japan Series were two-game series split at one win apiece. I suppose that bodes well for the A's going into Thursday's game. MLB will also play regular season games in London (Yankees vs. Red Sox) and Mexico (Reds vs. Cardinals and Angels vs. Astros) this season.
Here is everything you need to know, see, and hear from the very first game of the 2019 regular season.
Ichiro received a huge ovation(s)
The great Ichiro Suzuki was indeed in the starting lineup for Wednesday's season opener -- he batted ninth and played right field -- and, as expected, he received a thunderous ovation during pregame introductions.
Ichiro was of course cheered loudly before each at-bat as well. The 45-year-old went 0 for 1 with a walk and a pop-up to second base in Wednesday's game. The walk made him the first player to reach base safely at age 45 (or order) since Omar Vizquel in October 2012.
Mariners manager Scott Servais ceremoniously removed Ichiro from the game in the the bottom of the fourth inning. He received a big hand as he exited the field and that was the entire point, though the ovation was a bit awkward and slow to develop. Seems to me the crowd would've rather seen Suzuki remain in the game.
Ichiro is set to play again Thursday. After that, who knows? Suzuki hasn't said anything about his future recently, though it sure would be pretty cool to see him call it a career after two games in his home country. Short of winning that elusive World Series ring, I'm not sure there would be a better way for Ichiro to go out.
The ceremonial first pitch was pretty cool
Prior to Wednesday's game former Mariners closer Kazuhiro Sasaki threw out the ceremonial first pitch to former Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima. Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, who played for both the A's and Mariners, stood in the box for the first pitch. Check it out:
Of course Rickey took a swing. Of course he did. All he needed to do was dunk a ball into the outfield somewhere and do the jersey pop as he ran down to first base to make that first pitch even better.
Griffey was in the camera well
Henderson stood in the box during the ceremonial first pitch. Fellow Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. hung out in the camera well all game. A photo of the photographer:
Too bad Hall of Famer and photograph aficionado Randy Johnson didn't make the trip to Japan. After all those years of doing amazing things on the field together, seeing The Kid and the Big Unit rubbing elbows in the camera well would've been pretty neat.
Piscotty hit 2019's first homer
It was not quite as memorable as Stephen Piscotty golfed a Gonzales offering to straightaway center field in the bottom of the first inning for the first homer -- and first run -- of the new season., but we didn't have to wait long for the first homer of 2019.
Matt Chapman's two-way excellence and Khris Davis' MLB leading 48 home runs made it easy to overlook Piscotty last season. He authored a .267/.331/.491 batting line with 41 doubles and 27 home runs in 151 games after coming over from the Cardinals in an offseason trade.
Santana hit 2019's first grand slam
Three half-innings after Piscotty hit the season's first home run, Domingo Santana swatted the year's first grand slam. The Mariners loaded the bases on an infield single (Tim Beckham), a single to right (Dee Gordon), and a hit-by-pitch (Jay Bruce). Santana then poked a ball the other way over the right field wall for a four-run homer.
That is Santana's 55th career home run and his second career grand slam. It is the first grand slam hit by an MLB player in the Tokyo Dome since Benny Agbayani's 11th inning grand slam against the Cubs in 2000.
The Mariners bought low on Santana, who hit .265/.328/.412 with five homers last year and spent most of the summer in Triple-A after hitting .278/.371/.505 with 30 home runs in 2017, in a three-player trade with the Brewers over the winter. It was a nifty little high-upside pickup for a rebuilding team, and it paid dividends Wednesday.
Khrush hit another Opening Day home run
Is it just me, or does the Tokyo Dome always look bigger on television than it plays? I always think the high walls would make it tough to hit home runs, and yet, the ball was flying Wednesday. Five total home runs were hit Wednesday, including one by Khris Davis, the reigning MLB home run king. He smacked a two-run homer for his first of what figures to be another 40-something dingers in 2019.
That is Davis' fourth Opening Day home run with the A's, setting a new franchise record. Also, he has now gone deep in three consecutive Opening Days. Yogi Berra (1955-58), Gary Carter (1977-80), and Todd Hundley (1994-97) are the only players in history to hit a home run in four consecutive Opening Days. Davis will look to join them next year and, oddly, become the first non-catcher in baseball history to go yard in four straight season openers.
Gonzales did something that hadn't happened since 2005
For the first time in 11 years, someone other than Felix Hernandez started Opening Day for the Mariners. Gonzales, who chucked 166 2/3 innings with a 4.00 ERA last season, drew the Opening Day assignment over the declining Hernandez. He's the first non-Felix pitcher to start Seattle's season opener since Erik Bedard in 2008.
Despite the Piscotty and Davis home runs, Gonzales completed six solid innings, and retired the final eight batters he faced. He threw only 69 pitches as well. This early in the year though, and with an odd schedule, there's no reason to push the young man deeper into the ballgame.
With the win, Gonzales became the first Mariners starter other than Hernandez to pick up an Opening Day win since Jamie Moyer way back in 2005. Prior to Gonzales, the last starter other than Hernandez or Moyer to earn an Opening Day win for Seattle was Jeff Fassero in 1997.
Mike Fiers, meanwhile, got hit around in his first career Opening Day start. The A's right-hander surrendered five runs in three innings, including the Santana grand slam. He threw 58 pitches in three innings, or 11 fewer than Gonzales threw in six innings.
Beckham's bat flip game is midseason form
It is only March 20 and the traditional Opening Day is still a week away, but Tim Beckham's bat flip is in midseason form. The Mariners shortstop clocked a dinger Wednesday and gave us this high-quality bat flip:
Ah yes, that's the good stuff. Good to have you back, dingers and bat flips.
The Mariners and Athletics will conclude the two-game Japan Series on Thursday (5:30 a.m. ET and 6:30 p.m. local). Southpaw Yusei Kikuchi, who signed a four-year contract with Seattle over the winter, will make his MLB debut in his home country, and that is pretty cool. The former Seibu Lions ace will be opposed by A's offseason pickup Marco Estrada. After that, the two teams will head home to play a few more spring exhibition games before resuming the regular season next Thursday.