An “Opening Day” Viewing Guide

It’s Opening Day! Or, well, it would have been Opening Day. It was Opening Day? The semantics are still unsettled. In any case, today is a day when I’d normally block off my entire calendar and watch baseball — glorious meaningful baseball — all day long. The global pandemic hasn’t stopped my yearning for that yearly ritual; if anything, the grim reality of our current predicament has made me long for baseball more.

Luckily for me and you, MLB is doing its best to make it feel like baseball is still here. The league has assembled a broad slate of games across several platforms that will let you watch all the baseball you can handle. There are 35 broadcasts in all:

There are so many games, in fact, that you can choose your own adventure. Or, if you’re so inclined, you can let me choose your adventure. Here are a few slates for various types of fan.

World Series Drama
If you want to watch the highest-stakes games available, you’re in luck. Start your morning off with an appetizer: the 2013 Pirates/Reds Cueto game, which I wrote about here, in Spanish on Twitter. It’ll be early, so brew a coffee, eat some cereal, and listen to awesome announcing and echoing Cueto chants. There are no World Series stakes in this game, but it’s the best of a thin 8:30 ET slate if you want drama.

From there, it’s nothing but the hits. Head to Facebook for Cardinals/Rangers Game 6 (2011 World Series) at 11:00. Knowing what happened doesn’t make it any less ridiculous that the Cardinals were down to their final strike twice — in consecutive innings! — and stormed back to win in 11 innings. The level of play wasn’t pristine — the teams combined for five errors, and that doesn’t count Nelson Cruz’s Family Circus routes in right. But you’re not here for crisp play, you’re here for drama, and this game delivers.

After that, take a deep breath, because it’s time for some classic winner-take-all contests. 2019’s Nationals/Astros decider features a Howie Kendrick bomb and plenty of nerve-wracking moments on both sides. It’s paced well, too: you’ll be drained from the Freese game’s late drama, and the early innings of this one are a breeze. By the time you’ve finished working from home, you’ll be at the good parts. Just don’t second guess AJ Hinch — his decision-making was just fine.

From there, watch the 2016 Cubs/Indians capper, either at 6:05 on YouTube or 7:00 on FS1. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of either team or a neutral party, this is a classic. Like both previous games, it starts slowly, so you’ll have time to scarf down dinner (or an afternoon snack on the West Coast) as the teams exchange runs over the first three innings. By the time David Ross launches an inconceivable home run off of Andrew Miller, settle in, because things are getting good.

When Rajai Davis steps to the plate against Aroldis Chapman, knowing the outcome of the game gives his heroics added Pyrrhic poignancy. It won’t be enough, and you know it. But that doesn’t make it any less dramatic, and the fact that this game happened years ago means you’ll get to skip the subsequent rain delay. The North Siders win in the end, but the swings are so intense that I’d forgive you for forgetting the outcome in the moment.

If you’re baseballed out at this point, you can call it a night. But if you want more, both FS1 and Facebook start 2001 Yankees/Diamondbacks Game 7 at 10:00. This is yet another game filled with late drama; the Yankees took a one run lead into the ninth inning, with Mariano Rivera on his second inning of work after a three-strikeout eighth.

You know what happens in the end. But if you think you might fall asleep before you get there, hop over to YouTube and watch the conclusion of the 2014 World Series. Watching Madison Bumgarner struggle, on short rest, to grind out inning after inning of relief and continue the Even Year Bullshit (Editor’s note: Look, there’s a pandemic — Ben can swear a little as a treat), will mirror your own struggle to stay focused and awake after 14 hours of baseball.

Superstars Being Superstars
Eh, World Series drama is for October. Opening Day is for watching your favorite baseball player. Start off with Bryce Harper’s epic walk-off grand slam from last year. Rumor has it that the ball still hasn’t come down, and Harper’s joyous sprint around the diamond and face-first encounter with a Gatorade bath are electric. As an added bonus, most of the game is forgettable, so you can have breakfast and get a little work done with the sounds of baseball in the background, then focus in for the ninth.

After Harper’s late heroics, watch Mike Trout one-up him with some game-long heroics. Trout started this 2018 drubbing of the Yankees with a first-pitch RBI double in the top of the first. By the time he came to bat again, the Yankees had put four runs on the board; so naturally, he doubled again in the fourth, making it second and third with no one out.

From there, things snowballed. A two-run home run in the fifth put the Angels ahead for good. A run-scoring double in the seventh helped cement the lead a bit. A single in the eighth didn’t matter when it came to the outcome, but still, five for five! The progression of the hits is delightful as well; left, right, left, center, and an infield single thrown in for good measure.

Next comes the real treat of the day; King Félix’s masterful perfect game, at 3:30 on Facebook. The broadcast is in Spanish, but even if you don’t speak a word, it won’t matter. The sheer mastery plays in any language, and watching a franchise stalwart at the peak of his powers is a delight. Who needs to think of Félix as he is now, scrapping to make the back end of Atlanta’s rotation? Present-day baseball has been explicitly paused. You have license to watch whatever you’d like; so why not make it one of the best pitchers of the 21st century at his most electric?

After that, you’ll need a breather. So at 6:00, turn to ESPN2, where you can watch four classic home run derbies. Cook some dinner, or order from a local takeout place, and watch a bunch of bombs while you catch up on emails. None of these games matter in the present day in the way live sports would, and the home run derby leans into that. It’s pointless, and it’s also tremendously fun if you’re into home runs.

From there, head to bed the way God intended; with Vin Scully calling a Clayton Kershaw no-hitter, at 9:00 on MLB’s Twitter page. Peak Kershaw eclipsed even Peak Félix when it comes to effortless dominance, and this game was the high point of his preposterous 2014 season (1.77 ERA! 1.81 FIP! 31.9% strikeouts and only 4.1% walks!).

The sheer mastery on display here is worth your while, and that’s before considering Scully’s soothing announcing. Any Scully-era Dodgers game is a delight to listen to, but he’s perhaps most enjoyable when calling Kershaw’s gems. There’s something primally calming about Scully describing Kershaw. “There’s public enemy number one,” he intones as yet another batter flails over the curveball. “A beauty, taken for strike three,” he muses as Kershaw paints the corner.

The actual no-hitter here is secondary to the atmosphere. This pitching performance stands as one of the best of all time — 15 strikeouts, no walks, just two hours and 58 minutes of sheer dominance. You might fall asleep before game’s end, but that’s true to the Dodgers experience; I’ve ended plenty of days with MLB.TV on in bed, drifting to sleep with Scully’s voice leading me there.

Oddities
It’s a weird time, so why keep your baseball normal? You can journey through the day with strange and wonderful games. Start at 8:30 with Game 1 of the 2018 NLDS, when the Brewers vanquished the Rockies in 10 innings. It’s weird right from the jump; the first inning alone features DJ LeMahieu caught stealing and Ryan Braun thrown out at home trying to score from second base on a wild pitch.

The game can’t keep up that fever pitch of weirdness; it settles down into a gentler rhythm in the middle innings, with a Christian Yelich homer the main drama. But it gets weird again late; what game would be complete without a ninth inning comeback keyed by an error? How about another play at the plate, this time to keep the Brewers tied? This wasn’t a well-played game overall, but it was certainly exciting.

Next up is another October game; Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS. José Bautista threw a bat so dramatically that he caused an international incident. Before that thunderous home run, however, the game was already an odd classic.

Heading into the top of the seventh, the game was tied. Then Rougned Odor reached on a single, reached third with two out, and — well, I don’t even know what baseball words to use to describe this. Russell Martin received a completely ordinary pitch, threw it back to Aaron Sanchez — and hit Shin-Soo Choo’s bat with his throw. The ball ricocheted towards third, and after some discussion, the umpires ruled that Odor should be awarded home on a throwing error.

Toronto’s crowd was incensed, and it took quite a while to get the rain of beer cans and trash to stop. And then, well, just read the descriptions of the first three plate appearances of the bottom half of the inning:

  • Russell Martin safe at first on an error by Elvis Andrus.
  • Kevin Pillar grounds into a fielder’s choice. Martin safe at second on a throwing error by Mitch Moreland.
  • Ryan Goins grounds into a fielder’s choice. Dalton Pompey (running for Martin) to third. Pillar safe at second on a fielding error by Andrus.

By the time Bautista came to the plate, with the game tied and two outs, things were already bonkers. The tying run had even scored on a jam-up flare that resulted in Odor getting a force-out from 30 feet in the outfield grass. Then Bautista ignited the heavens, and that was that. But even before that epic bat flip, this was one of the wildest games of the century.

After that, you’ll need a cool-down. You can’t keep up the emotional highs and lows of that game for long without needing a nap. Our next stop is at 3:00; the 2017 Rockies/Giants clash that ended with Nolan Arenado remarking, “It’s blood and it’s not coming off.”

If that doesn’t pique your interest, I’m not sure what will. The aforementioned blood dotted Arenado’s jersey after Charlie Blackmon hit him in the forehead with his helmet in a celebratory dog pile. The reason for the mob was Arenado’s walk-off, three-run homer that completed a dramatic, come-from-behind victory, but the rest of the game is pretty great too.

The Rockies shouldn’t have needed Arenado’s heroics. They had a lead heading into the ninth, and the Giants were awful. They finished the year at 64-98, and their offense was particularly brutal; 14th in the NL in runs, last in homers, and last in OPS. But the combination of a tired Jake McGee and Coors Field can make any offense look good; Hunter Pence jacked a two-run home run to put San Francisco up one, and Brandon Crawford added an insurance run.

Oh yeah — Arenado hit for the cycle in this game. Cycles aren’t one of my favorite baseball achievements; I’d take Trout’s 5-for-5 game up above over a cycle any day. But this was one for the ages. Dangerously bad fun fact alert: Arenado is the only player in history to complete a cycle with a come-from-behind, walk-off home run. All that, and a little happy bloodshed? What’s not to love?

The 6:00 window is light on weird games, but there’s one that at least somewhat qualifies. At 6:05, you can watch the Royals take down the Mets to win the 2015 World Series. While the game is mostly a pitcher’s duel, the end gets a little bit loopy.

After eight dominant innings, Matt Harvey looked gassed. But he convinced manager Terry Collins to let him go back out in the ninth inning, at over 100 pitches and facing the heart of the order. Things immediately went wrong; Harvey walked Lorenzo Cain, let him steal second, then gave up a run on an Eric Hosmer double. With Hosmer on third and one out, Salvador Perez failed to get the ball out of the infield. But Hosmer made an incredible read and came home on an infield groundout, tying the game in dramatic fashion. The Royals won in 12, but the ninth inning is the draw here.

Before bed, take in the wildest game of 2019. As is the case for many of our games, you can skip the first chunk of this one if you have things to do; after seven innings, the Padres were down 11-4 in Colorado. They were still down six after eight innings before roaring back in a wild six-run ninth, then tacking on five more in the 12th to win it. You don’t get many 16-12 games, and fewer still that feature a six-run comeback in a single inning. If I have any quibble with this game, it’s that a 9:30 game whose exciting parts happen in the ninth inning could lead to a late night. But for the baseball completist, it’s great to have the option to celebrate “Opening Day” however you’d like.

We hoped you liked reading An “Opening Day” Viewing Guide by Ben Clemens!

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Ben is a contributor to FanGraphs. A lifelong Cardinals fan, he got his start writing for Viva El Birdos. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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Greg Simons
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Greg Simons

Thanks, Ben, this is very helpful.