Opening Day games, by nature, are weird.
There’s weather, nerves, unknowns outta nowhere making a mark or flubbing a game, walk-offs you either remember forever or can’t recall in June depending on how well the season transpires ...
Thursday’s 14-7 win by the Chicago White Sox at a cold and dank Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City will be tough to forget, even if Matt Davidson falls short of 74 home runs this season, or the Sox somehow fail to run away with the division.
Davidson tied a major league record with three home runs in the game, set a record with the exit velocity of his homers, and led a White Sox assault on the Royals that isn’t something easily vapo-rubbed off or showered away.
After barely missing a home run in the second inning, when his long fly down the right-field line was caught by Jorge Soler about 10 feet from the wall, Davidson didn’t miss in his next three safe hits. Sandwiched around a walk, Davidson hit a solo shot in the fourth, a solo shot in the fifth and a three-run blast in the eighth. And it wasn’t just that Davidson hit three homers — he crushed them.
“It was awesome, something you dream of,” a slightly punch-drunk Davidson smiled postgame. “It’s a good start, but let’s keep it up for the next 161 [games].”
Exit velocity measured his first home run, clocked deep to left-center, at 115.1 mph. His second, nearly to the same spot, was 114 mph. His third, shot like a bullet inside the left-field foul pole, was 113.9 mph. It was the first time in the Statcast era (measuring exit velocity) that a player had even crushed two home runs of 110 mph — much less three. For context, last year the White Sox hit exactly one home run all season with an exit velocity of 113.5 mph or more.
Davidson became just the fourth player, after Dmitri Young, George Bell and Tuffy Rhodes, to homer three times on Opening Day. Even more unique, according to Twitter trivia maven SoxNerd, Davidson became the first player dating back at least to 1907 to score four runs on Opening Day.
Coupled with a two-homer day from Tim Anderson and a Jose Abreu two-run blast that just eked over the left-field fence to get the White Sox on the board in the fourth, the White Sox hit six home runs, tying an Opening Day record set by the New York Mets in 1988.
The game did not start out as a runaway, however.
After the White Sox whimpered in the 1-2-3 first, James Shields started the game lofting 16-inch softballs to K.C. hitters:
Royals in the 1st inning— Patrick Brennan (@paintingcorner) March 29, 2018
100.5 MPH single
101.9 MPH single
103.7 MPH single
108.0 MPH home run
65.2 MPH groundout
99.5 MPH lineout
102.4 MPH double
85.0 MPH flyout
The first four Royals hitters hit safely, and scored. The one bit of quiet contact in the first came from No. 5 hitter and DH Cheslor Cuthbert, who bailed Shields out on a full count by grounding out on an inside fastball that should have been ball four.
Indeed, after setting the Royals down in order in the second, Shields was seen leaving the field and telling catcher Welington Castillo to “let [the Royals] hit it.”
Two innings in, the most generally ineffective White Sox starter on staff is pitching to contact in a wintry mix, down 4-0 and with no measurable offense to back him.
Postgame, Davidson paid a rather wry, backhanded compliment to Shields, a genuine old head on a roster full of kids: “He knows how to deal with adversity.”
Lost in the fact that Wilbur Wood, today, at age 76, might have held the lead the White Sox offense would eventually provide, is that Shields manned up and pitched well enough that Jake Peavy himself would have handed over the Bulldog collar today.
How great did Shields pitch after being jumped in the alley that was his top of the first? He gave up just a hit and a walk the rest of the game. Shields, after kicking off the contest halving his game score from the starting point of 50 down to 26 before a single vendor had sold a beer, recovered and left after the sixth inning almost crawling back to the surface, with a game score of 46.
Danny Duffy found himself with almost opposite fortune. Five of his first nine outs were by K, with several Sox caught looking. At the time, it seemed as if Chicago had left its robust offense back in Arizona — but the possum-playing ended in the fourth.
Avisail Garcia led off the inning with a double to left, followed by a patented towering fly by Abreu that basically landed on the top of the left-field fence.
Lead halved, Davidson then took a 2-1, choice-cut fastball very, very deep to make the score 4-3. Then it was Anderson’s turn, driving it out to left field and tying the score at four.
But you know, have yourselves a game, White Sox. After a Yolmer Sanchez walk and Adam Engel single pushing Sánchez to third, Yoan Moncada doubled to give the White Sox the lead. The inning ended on a long blast from García that came close to a three-run homer.
Up 5-4 and with Shields well settled, the White Sox went back to work in the fifth. This frame’s crooked number went up starting with Davidson’s second titanic blast to left-center. After a Nicky Delmonico walk, Anderson chased Davidson’s twofer with one of his own, spanking a hanging curve for his second home run, well into the left-field bullpen, and putting the White Sox up, 8-4.
Things were relatively quiet until Sánchez came up in the seventh inning, with two outs and the sacks packed with Good Guys. After running the count to 3-0 and then falling back to full, Sánchez worm-burned a grounder back up the middle, scoring three runs.
Wait, a three-run RBI single?
Good gravy, Anderson on first base had such a jump with the full count he risked passing Leury Garcia on the basepaths; TA’s Enos Slaughter routine was so extraordinary, the ball dribbled behind him as he made his turn at second base. That is tasty speed.
“That’s how we do it,” Anderson said. “We continue to play with a lot of energy.”
“Very impressive,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria grinned.
The tripod of tallies pushed Chicago’s total to 11 unanswered runs in the comeback.
The curtain fell on the White Sox scoring, and pushed the run total to two touchdowns, when Davidson yanked his third homer of the day, squaring up on a slider running in and making the cowhide cry.
Kansas City would dribble three runs across the board in the eighth and ninth (another nutty nugget from today: Pale Hose P’s didn’t record a strikeout until the eighth inning, the 23rd out of the game), but it was far too little, and much too late given Kauffman’s mausoleum state in the waning innings. Highway traffic on I-70 was audible as the game ground down.
That is, at least when the insidious whip-crack of Chicago bats weren’t molesting the heavy K.C. air.