Thursday, March 31, 2011

Great blown saves in Opening Day history

Why Shotgun Messiah? Because they pulled a Michael Bolton and tried going industrial after hair metal perished. Don't try this at home, John Axford.

Thanks to the beauty of the Interwebs, I know a bunch of Brewers fans. And by a bunch I mean two. Which is one more than I knew before Al Gore invented the Internet sometime between the year in which Mark Gubicza blew out his arm and the year he got a haircut.

Anyway. Those Brewers fans are a sad bunch tonight after John Axford suffered the first blown save of the season by giving up four runs—including Ramon Hernandez’ game-winning three-run blast, no, I will not use the term walk-off—as the Reds came back to edge the Brewers, 7-6, in Cincinnati. That’s a lousy way to begin the season, but Axford’s implosion (which I just decided would be a GREAT name for an industrial rock band) inspired me to research some other Opening Day blown saves.

The good news for Axford is this doesn’t stop him from going to the Hall of Fame, and may even encourage him to grow back the handlebar mustache he had last year (let’s hope it doesn’t inspire him to piss off the IRS though). Rollie Fingers opened up the 1984 season for the Brewers by blowing a save against the Oakland A’s in which he gave up three runs without recording an out in the ninth inning as the A’s came back to win 6-5.

That boxscore, by the way, is chock full of awesomeness. Don Sutton started for the Brewers while Pete Ladd—another famously mustached closer—gave up the winning hit to make a winner out of Tom Burgmeier, who was just days shy of his 75th birthday. The game featured three other Hall of Famers in addition to Sutton: Robin Yount, Rickey Henderson and Joe Morgan, who presumably pushed Jim Gantner in a puddle before the game and told him he couldn’t have played for the Big Red Machine. Dave Kingman made his Oakland debut, and probably sent a rat to a female reporter afterward. Good times.

I’m rambling again and Shotgun Messiah is ringing in my head. Here are some other memorable Opening Day blown saves. Thanks as always to Baseball-Reference, which would have ensured my virginity well into a fourth decade if it existed back in the late '80s or early '90s.

Braves vs. Cubs, 1988: Bruce Sutter, just beginning the back end of a six-year, $10 million deal that no doubt inspired Chicken Littles everywhere to declare baseball was doomed, gives up two runs in the ninth and the Cubs win in extras. Braves never recover, finish 54-106. Probably would have been at least 55-105 if Sutter held on.

Marlins vs. Expos, 2002, and Mets vs. Reds, 2005: This is the Braden Looper double play. Can’t imagine there are many closers who have imploded on Opening Day for TWO teams. He retired after failing to make the Cubs this spring. Probably for the best. Not sure humanity could have withstood such a perfect marriage of misery.

Pirates vs. Expos, 1989: Jeff Robinson blows a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth as Tim Raines draws a bases-loaded walk to complete the Expos’ 6-5 win. Barry Bonds, distraught after going 4-for-4 with a homer, triple, two singles and a stolen base as the Pirates’ leadoff hitter, drowns his sorrows in steroids. No, no, I made that up. He never did steroids. Greg Anderson is just a very good friend who happens to be a mime.

Mets vs. Rockies, 1995: Quite possibly the greatest meltdown in Opening Day history. The Mets blow leads in the ninth, 13th and 14th innings before fist-pumping Dante Bichette caps the first game at Coors Field with a game-winning homer off Mike Remlinger. The most amazing thing: Armando Benitez, still four years away from landing in Queens, had nothing to do with it.

Diamondbacks vs. Dodgers, 1999: Gregg Olson is saddled with the blown save in the ninth as the Dodgers tie it with three runs to rob Randy Johnson of a win in his Diamondbacks debut. Dodgers win it in the 11th. Things turned out pretty well that year for the D-Backs, who won 100 games in just their second season.

Padres vs. Rockies, 2005: Trevor Hoffman gives up four runs in the bottom of the ninth as the Rockies storm back to win 12-10. Fortunately, nothing bad would ever happen to Trevor in Denver ever again.

Red Sox vs. Devil Rays, 2003: The Red Sox’ closer by committee concept gets off to a rollicking start as the Devil Rays—I can call them that, that’s what they were called then!—score five runs off Alan Embree and Chad Fox to stun the Sox 6-4. Carl Crawford hits a two-run homer to win it, but Theo Epstein—who, to be fair, never coined the term closer by committee—gets the last laugh seven years later by throwing silly money at Crawford. (PS: Hi Theo!)

Orioles vs. Rays and Jays vs. Rangers, 2010: Grouping these together because Mike Gonzalez and Jason Frasor would soon lose the trust of their managers and their closer gigs. They combined to end the season with a total of five saves. And now, Kevin Gregg, who took over for Frasor in Toronto, is closing in Baltimore, where Gonzalez remains a set-up man. Isn’t it ironic? No, Alanis, it’s coincidence.

A’s vs. Twins, 1980: Bob Lacey blows the save in Billy Martin’s first game as Oakland manager and the Twins end up winning in 11. Billy, forever scarred by the experience, tells his starters to man up as the A’s finish with 94 complete games. Roll that over on your tongue: Ninety-four complete games. In related news, Rick Langford (33 starts, 28 complete games) can’t even write his name anymore.

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