The game time temperature was 39 degrees, but the sun was shining brightly and 46,172 spectators on hand at a very chilly Yankee Stadium could feel warm from about as perfect an Opening Day could be for a Yankee fan. For the first time in franchise history, the Yankees opened the season with an interleague game as they blanked the Giants, 5-0.
Gerrit Cole pitched six scoreless innings and set a franchise record for a season opener with 11 strikeouts. Aaron Judge picked right up where he left off from last year’s record setting season as he hit a home run in his first at bat of the season, Gleyber Torres, penciled in the lineup as the DH, hit a two run homer and scored twice while 21-year old Anthony Volpe made his highly anticipated big league debut.
Oh yes, the new rules were implemented for the first time at the Stadium. Former Met and Giants first-baseman J.D. Davis suffered the penalty in the ninth, becoming the answer to a trivia question.
The day was filled with pageantry and the traditional introduction of the teams. Of course, Judge and Volpe got the biggest cheers, but there was tremendous applause for a Hall of Famer as Mariano Rivera threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
The game did not start off well for Cole who may have been overthrowing as he walked lead off hitter Lamonte Wade Jr. on four straight pitches. The Yankee ace then struck out the next three batters, all on sliders. Michael Conforto, who was making his Giants debut, and Wilmer Flores were caught looking and Joc Pederson went down swinging.
“I didn’t think my command was great all day,” Cole said. “I did make some good pitches in some good situations, but I thought that Trevi [Trevino] was using what we had, very well.”
After D.J. LeMahieu struck out to start the first, Judge used the first swing of his season to unload on an 0-1 pitch from Giants starter and loser Logan Webb, and have it carry over the center field wall for his first home run of the year and a 1-0 lead. Last season, Judge did not hit his first home run until the sixth game and had only one through 13 games. (That doesn’t mean he’ll hit 162 home runs this year)
“Webb’s gonna keep you in the ballpark,” Manager Aaron Boone said. “To get a ball up like that and to hit it out on a cold day, dead center. Not only is a difficult chore in and of itself, to get us a shot right there in the first, kinda let Gerrit go take it from there.”
Cole took Judge’s cue. “It was a tone setter for us. He came up and woke everybody up and showed us that he was here to play. It was a cool moment for him and an inspriing moment, I guess for me, and I wanted to take it in stride,” Cole said.
After the Yankee right hander fanned Conforto a second time to end the third inning, he had eight strikeouts. When Cole struck out Mike Yastrzemski for his tenth strikeout, he set a franchise record for the most in a season opener. Cole wasn’t looking for the K, he was looking for the W. “Strikeouts or no strikeouts, just needed to keep the team in the ballgame and hold the lead,” he said after the game.
Webb wasn’t doing too badly in the strikeout department as he had seven through three innings and ended his day striking out 12, as he set a Giants franchise record for an opener. The Yankees struck out a total of 16 times, led by Oswaldo Cabrera, who got the start in left field but had a rough opener as he struck out four times.
Cole and Webb became the third set of starting pitchers to have double digit strikeouts in the same season opening game. Baltimore’s Dave McNally and Cleveland’s Sam McDowell in 1970 and the Mets’ Jacob deGrom and Washington’s Max Scherzer in 2019 were the other opposing starters.
Webb made only two mistakes but both happened to leave the ballpark. In the fourth, Josh Donaldson singled with one out and Torres, who was the DH, hit his first home run of the season into the right field stands to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead.
After Webb walked Torres to open the seventh, reliever John Brebbia replaced him and got Oswaldo Cabrera striking out swinging as Torres stole second. Jose Trevino followed with a single, sending Torres to third and the crowd had an anticipatory moment of excitement as Volpe was due up.
The young shortstop took some big cuts and struck out swinging but the veterans picked him up. LeMahieu stroked his first hit and run batted in with a hard single to left and then Judge singled to left to score Trevino for a 5-0 lead.
Wandy Peralta, Jonathan Loaisiga and Ron Marinaccio tossed one hit ball over the final three innings and the Yankees were in the win column to begin the season.
Volpe had, what could be called a pretty nondescript first Major League game. He walked in his first big league at bat in the third and stole second. Volpe’s second at bat was a ground out to third and then he had the at bat in the seventh where he struck out, but he wasn’t going to allow the at bats to spoil his dream. “It was probably the most fun day in my entire life,” Volpe said.
Defensively, Volpe was solid and showed off some range. He made a nice play on a slow bouncer by former Yankee Thairo Estrada, with a little assist from first baseman Anthony Rizzo. The 21-year old nearly stole a hit from Conforto with an all out dive. The next batter, Volpe started a nice double play to squash out a potential rally.
His manager liked what he saw. “First AB, gets the big walk, steals a base. Handled the routine plays in the field, turned a double play,” Boone said.
Winning the first game is certainly a lot better than losing it, but Boone knows all about something that has been a truism as long as a baseball season has been played. “Maybe means a little more but you also realize pretty quickly it’s just one game,” he said.