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BC-BBO--Opening Day

March 29, 2019
AP Baseball Writer

Bryce Harper bowed to his new fans, Chris Sale and the Boston Red Sox began the defense of their World Series crown and the great Mariano Rivera threw one more strike from the mound at Yankee Stadium.

Then, from ballparks across the land, it was time for opening day.

Lorenzo Cain made the big catch. Javier Baez swung a powerful bat. And Jordan Zimmermann came close to giving Major League Baseball a perfect start Thursday.

A week after Ichiro Suzuki and the Seattle Mariners swept two games from Oakland at the Tokyo Dome, everyone was in action.

The packed crowd at Citizens Bank Park was especially energized by Harper and the Philadelphia Phillies in a 10-4 win over Atlanta.

“The atmosphere was unbelievable,” Harper said. “The atmosphere was rocking all through the game.”

And a year after the conditions were more fit for snowballs than baseballs in some places, the weather was fine. A little rainy in Kansas City, causing a slight delay, but no freezing temperatures anywhere.

Cy Young Award winners past and present took the hill — Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer delivered the marquee matchup that was expected, but a duel never developed between Justin Verlander and Blake Snell.

Robinson Cano, Andrew McCutchen and Marwin Gonzalez got key hits for their new clubs, but Harper, Manny Machado and Paul Goldschmidt didn’t.

Fernando Tatis Jr. represented the rookies well — just a few months past his 20th birthday, the highly touted San Diego Padres prospect became the youngest player with a multihit game in an opener since Robin Yount in 1975.

Playing up the power factor that often dominates these days, the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers hit eight home runs — a record for opening day — and romped past Arizona 12-5.

New managers began with a mixed bag. Minnesota’s Rocco Baldelli and Cincinnati’s David Bell won while Brandon Hyde, taking over the 115-loss Orioles, Toronto’s Charlie Montoyo, Texas’ Chris Woodward and the Angels’ Brad Ausmus lost.

“I think the dugout seemed a little quieter than normal,” Hyde said. “I just felt like it was quieter than normal because of some jitters from some younger players.”

The sellout crowd in the Bronx had plenty to cheer, including Rivera’s ceremonial first ball. The first player to be unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame, he zinged it, too.

Far from Fenway Park, the Red Sox were greeted with huge cheers as the champs were introduced in Seattle. Boston rooters who traveled cross-country chanted “Mookie! Mookie!” for MVP Mookie Betts.

At Target Field, there was a different look as Cleveland took on Minnesota. The Twins showed off a new backdrop beyond the center field fence, with 5,700 sea green juniper plants now maing up the batter’s eye.

The Indians, meanwhile, wore uniforms without the divisive Chief Wahoo logo on them for the first time in 70 years.

Everyone on field, however, wore a path commemorating the 150th anniversary of the first professional baseball team.

In Philly, Harper was a huge hit — even though he went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.

Fresh off signing a $330 million contract, Harper came onto the field wearing cleats featuring the green Phillie Phanatic. Harper did a pronounced bow to the stands in right field when he took his position and threw a warmup ball into the third deck.

Many fans wore his new No. 3 jersey. Earlier in the day, MLB announced Harper had the sport’s top-selling jersey, ending a two-year run by Yankees slugger Aaron Judge’s No. 99.

The crowd of 45,000 stood for Harper’s at-bats and chanted his name. Harper’s deal was the largest in baseball history until Angels star Mike Trout topped that with a $426.5 million contract.

Trout, a two-time MVP and generally regarded as the best player in baseball, has never won a playoff game in his eight years with the Angels. He went 1 for 3 as Los Angeles opened this season with a 4-0 loss to Oakland.

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AP Sports Writers Dan Gelston, Dave Campbell and Tim Booth contributed to this report.

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