It was, in many respects, a rather strange day -- fantastic and exhilarating and a bunch of other superlatives that I'm too tired to recall right now, but strange all the same. The final outcome of this fledgling season's thrilling first game was identical to that of last season's also-thrilling first game, but everything from the weather to the in-stadium experience to the game tempo deviated sharply this time around ... and, of course, none of us would have it any other way.
There aren't many individual games I'm likely to remember in their entirety 10-15 years down the road, but this is one of them, perhaps not so much because of how it ended as how it unfolded. The confounding mystique of baseball at work.
Unlike last year's atmospherically complicated season opener (in which sub-freezing wind chills blasted anyone and everyone scurrying to seek refuge in the sun-soaked lower seating bowl), this year's contest featured overcast, nigh-drizzly skies with a decidedly more appropriate temperature (low-80s) for parking-lot lounging/tailgating/imbibing, activities which many apparently continued to partake in even beyond first pitch. Home batting practice -- described second-hand as not overly impressive -- had already wrapped up before I had even finished parking, leaving the Opening Day festivities and the game itself on the slate. And so commenced the memories.
The first indication that this year's season opener might not be the crisp, clean carbon copy of last year's 9-1 walloping of Cleveland that many of us were looking for was, interestingly enough, found in the infield -- more specifically, at second base, where one year before Ian Kinsler had initiated a flawlessly executed 4-6-3 double play to bail Kevin Millwood out of first-inning trouble. This year, the first chance at second base was handled not by a DL-ridden Kinsler, but instead by purported quality glovesman Andres Blanco, who promptly flubbed it. Actually, I suppose that was the second indication, given that Scott Feldman had already yielded a crowd-deflating single-homer combo immediately before Blanco's miscue, but the point stands all the same.
And so the innings quickly began to tick away, one after the next -- Feldman somewhat settled down thereafter, only permitting one more earned run (an Adam Lind solo blast which was hurled back onto the field, albeit not before bonking some poor woman on the skull) in what amounted to a decent, but hardly spectacular seven-inning, 100-pitch effort. It was one of those starts where you could readily recognize that his command was a bit off and, consequently, he was inducing a less-than-optimal number of fly balls and relying more upon good luck than you would like, but he made his sinker-cutter-curveball repertoire hold up, and for that he deserves ample credit.
On the other side of the ball, however, disaster seemed imminent. '0-0-1' read the Rangers' portion of the scoreboard after six innings (with the single loudest reaction from the denizens of Section 42 coming when Michael Young's fourth-inning grounder was ruled an error rather than a hit), and a quick between-innings trip to the concourse reflected public opinion. "Where's Rudy Jaramillo when you need him!", bellowed one older gentlemen with a stifled grin on his face and a hint of sarcasm in his voice, a sentiment with which others jokingly concurred. It was a different crowd dynamic in a good sort of way; the 50,000-plus crowd was clearly into it and displeased with the current flow of the game, but yet still seemed to be taking it all in stride. An interesting middle ground.
Hope did, of course, soar as Josh Hamilton worked his huge full-count walk with eight outs left, and soared even higher when Vladimir Guerrero terminated Shawn Marcum's no-hit bid immediately thereafter, and -- as you might expect -- all hell broke loose after Nelson Cruz's game-tying poke into the home run porch, an opposite-field shot that didn't look terribly impressive off the bat on television but immediately looked very promising to those in attendance. Because television simply can't capture all of the subtleties and nuances of a baseball game:
What ensued between the seventh and eighth innings was likely also not captured by television cameras, which is a shame, because it was the sort of thing you've grown accustomed to seeing at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park, but not (yet) at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. As Cruz assumed his post in right field and began playing catch in preparation for the next frame, the entire home run porch (and several adjoining sections) broke into an impromptu, repeated and very, very loud chant of "Nelly!", only pausing to wildly applaud once he had acknowledged their adoration. In 10-plus years of attending Rangers games, I have yet to experience anything else quite like that moment.
Nor, for that matter, have I ever experienced a walk-off victory in person -- or perhaps the past tense is now more appropriate? I could wax poetic about Michael Young's clutch lead-off double, Vladimir Guerrero's runner-advancing infield single, Nelson Cruz pulling out more heroics with the game-tying double in the bottom of the ninth and Jarrod Saltalamacchia's game-sealing blast into the right-center field power alley (the second straight Opening Day win he has sealed with a bit of opportune power-hitting), but I couldn't possibly do any of that proper justice, nor do I really want to attempt to do so. Just some great pieces of hitting in the most high-leverage of situations.
It's ultimately one game out of one hundred and sixty-two, one game with incalculably small predictive value in terms of how the remainder of the season will develop, one game that doesn't really tell us much of anything we didn't already know. Whatever. All valid points, but if you can't fully appreciate one game at a time, how can you hope to ever fully appreciate the big picture?