Beginning with a snow-filled AL Central matchup in Detroit and a Hyun-Jin Ryu vs. Gerrit Cole pitching showdown in New York, there has been plenty to talk about right from the start of the new season.
It hasn’t all gone smoothly as baseball returns to a full 162-game schedule from a pandemic-shortened 2020 season, though, as the Boston Red Sox’s home opener against the Baltimore Orioles was postponed due to rain and the Washington Nationals-New York Mets matchup in D.C. was postponed due to COVID-19 issues.
Here are the only-in-baseball moments, must-see plays and overarching themes that have caught our eye on the first day of the 2021 season.
Miguel Cabrera swings (and slides) through the snow
Miguel Cabrera launches a two-run homer to right field and slides in the snow to celebrate.
As if we needed to be reminded that anything can happen at any time in baseball, a stark refresher of that truism was gifted to us on a snowy day in Detroit, early in one of the first games of the 2021 MLB season.
On the mound was Cleveland righthander Shane Bieber, who dominated his way through the short 2020 season, going 8-1 with a 1.63 ERA en route to his first AL Cy Young Award. At the plate was future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera, the face of the Tigers, who has battled age and injury in recent seasons as he pursues historic milestones for a rebuilding franchise.
Accentuating that frozen moment — the pun is intended — was a snowfall at Comerica Park so thick that you couldn’t tell at first that what was about to happen actually did happen.
With two outs and Jeimer Candelario at first base, Bieber threw a fastball in the upper outside quadrant of the strike zone. Cabrera lashed at it, sending a drive to right field. On the broadcast, it was impossible to tell what was the ball and what was snow, but the ball just cleared the railing in right field.
Not realizing that he had indeed just hit career home run No. 488, Cabrera — and though the game was played on April 1, this was no April Fools’ joke — slid into second base. — Bradford Doolittle
Teoscar Hernandez takes Gerrit Cole deep for a 437-foot homer to bring the Blue Jays even with the Yankees at 2-2.
Don’t sleep on Teoscar Hernandez
The Blue Jays project as one of the most exciting young teams in the sport. While a lot of the hype surrounds the trio of big league sons in Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Cavan Biggio, one of the team’s biggest X-factors this season will be Teoscar Hernandez, who put together a breakout campaign in 2020, hitting .289/.340/.579 with 16 homers and 34 RBIs in 50 games.
Hernandez changed the day for the Blue Jays when he hit a massive, 437-foot solo home run on a 86 mph slider from Yankees ace Gerrit Cole to tie the game at 2 in the sixth inning, while slotting in as the team’s cleanup hitter between Bichette and Guerrero.
The 28-year-old outfielder’s bat will be crucial for this Toronto team if it hopes to make the playoffs in 2021. His three-hit performance in a 10-inning win was a promising start. — Joon Lee
Gary Sanchez gives Yankees fans a reason to cheer
Gary Sanchez puts the Yankees out front with a two-run home run to left field in the second inning.
At least for one game, Gary Sanchez managed to keep his critics at bay.
Yankees fans maintain a mercurial relationship with Sanchez, but the catcher started the 2021 season off strong by blasting a two-run, 407-foot home run to left field off Blue Jays ace Hyun-Jin Ryu in his first at-bat of the year.
Whether or not Sanchez can remain the starting catcher for the Yankees will be one of the team’s most prominent storylines in the early part of the season. The backstop hit .147/.253/.365 in 49 games in 2020 and the team benched him during the playoffs, raising the question of whether the 28-year-old two-time All-Star is still the team’s best long-term option behind the plate. — Lee
Cody Bellinger hits a home run, but Justin Turner thinks it was caught so he runs back to first base as Bellinger runs by him, ruling Turner out and Bellinger is credited with an RBI single.
When a two-run homer isn’t a two-run homer
The Los Angeles Dodgers are trying to become the first team since the 2000 Yankees to win back-to-back World Series titles. In 2020, including the playoffs, they had the largest run differential average since the 1939 Yankees. Their over/under projection of 104.5 wins is tied for the highest figure in the past 30 years.
In other words, the Dodgers appear loaded for another big season. They just need to work a little bit on their home run trots and baserunning.
In the top of the third inning at Colorado, Cody Bellinger drove a ball to left-center with Justin Turner on first base. Rockies left fielder Raimel Tapia made a leaping attempt at the wall, but the ball bounced out of his glove and over the fence for an apparent two-run home run.
Except Turner, who had rounded second base, thought Tapia caught the ball and headed back to first with his head down — only to have Bellinger pass him on the basepaths. After a lengthy discussion with both managers, the umpires declared Bellinger out under rule 7.08 (h) for passing the baserunner, Turner. Bellinger was credited with an RBI single, as Turner was allowed to score.
The most famous incident along these lines in MLB history occurred in one of the most famous games ever pitched. Pittsburgh’s Harvey Haddix tossed 12 perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves on May 26, 1959, but the score remained 0-0 into the bottom of the 13th inning. Haddix lost the perfect game on an error and following a sacrifice bunt intentionally walked Hank Aaron. Joe Adcock then hit an apparent game-winning home run — except Adcock passed Aaron between second and third base, when Aaron headed to the dugout, thinking the ball had bounced off the outfield fence. Umpires originally declared the Braves had a 2-0 victory, but National League president Warren Giles later changed Adcock’s hit to an RBI double with a 1-0 official score. — David Schoenfield
You’ve got to see Bryce Harper’s cleats for yourself
— Cut4 (@Cut4) April 1, 2021
Bryce Harper upped the stakes with his ongoing Phillie Phanatic fetish before the season opener against Atlanta by sporting some wild, Phanatic-inspired cleats with crazy eyes and a stuffed toy affixed to them. These were even more bold than the version Harper sported last July, which were just kind of fuzzy. Harper has even swung a bat featuring the Phanatic’s face. Could the final iteration be Harper playing in the actual Phanatic costume? — Doolittle
Kyle Hendricks’ season gets off to a rocky start with Ke’Bryan Hayes hitting a two-run shot in the first inning.
Ke’Bryan Hayes looks like the real deal
Pirates rookie phenom Ke’Bryan Hayes picked up where he left off in spring training, where he hit .431. On Thursday, he took Kyle Hendricks deep in his first at-bat in the first inning, once again showing the baseball world why he’s a favorite to win Rookie of the Year in the NL.
In just 24 games during the shortened 2020 season, Hayes gave us a taste of what he could be: a dynamic offensive and defensive player, and nothing seen so far has changed that perception among those in the game. Hayes added a walk later, but his two-run home run in the first inning was the difference in the Pirates’ win over the Cubs. Hayes looks like the real deal. — Jesse Rogers