The Yankees’ 2017 season brought plenty of smiles to the Bronx and the tri-state area last year.
One of the biggest reasons for the Yankees’ success was the breakout year enjoyed by starter Luis Severino. The now 24-year old became the ace of the staff and earned the Yankees’ Opening Day start this year against the Toronto Blue Jays. He becomes the 55th pitcher in franchise history to be so honored. Masahiro Tanaka handled the last three Opening Day starts, with CC Sabathia getting the call from 2009-2014.
The Opening Day nod places Severino’s name among baseball royalty – Cy Young winners, Hall-of-Fame members, and some of the greatest pitchers in baseball have been handed the Opening Day assignment.
In getting the Yankees off on the right foot, Severino will attempt to do what no other Yankees Opening Day starter has done since March 31, 2011…win.
A year later, the skid began with a walk-off win by the Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox handed the Yankees an 8-2 drubbing in 2013 and the Astros came away with a 6-2 win in 2014. The Jays came out on top 6-1 in 2015 and the Astros were winners again (5-3) in 2016. That game turned on a play that taught a valuable lesson to Dellin Betances….if the batter is running in the baseline, drill him. (The 1998 ALCS had proven that interference won’t always be called, but sometimes it’s your only shot to record an out.) The 6’7″ Betances learned that lesson the hard way when his throw sailed into right field.
Last season, the Yankees lost to the Rays 7-3 en route to dropping four of their first five games. Thankfully, they went 90-67 (.573) after that.
CC Sabathia, the starter the last time the Yankees won the opener, took the mound for six straight Opening Day starts (2009-2014). The Yankees went 4-1 in the five years prior to 2009, with four different starters on the bump for the opener. Mike Mussina toed the rubber in 2004, followed by two starts from Randy Johnson, and one apiece by Carl Pavano, and Chien-Ming Wang.
The Opening Day starter is generally the ace of the staff and pitches the first game for two to three consecutive years or more. Roger Clemens handled the duties from 2001 – 2003 and had also gotten the nod in his first season in the Bronx, in 1999. Remarkably, Andy Pettitte made just one Opening Day start, in 1998.
Hall of Famer Whitey Ford shares the franchise record of seven Opening Day starts with Mel Stottlemyre and Ron Guidry. Ford’s seven starts were spread out – 1954-1955, 1957, 1961-1962, 1964, and 1966. “Stot” started from 1967-1970 and 1972-1974. Guidry got the call to pitch the opener from 1978-1980, 1982-1984, and in 1986. Ironically, all three pitchers eventually became the Yankees’ pitching coach.
Hall of Fame
In addition to Ford, other members of the Hall of Fame that handled the Opening Day assignment were: Lefty Gomez, who made six straight starts (1932-1937), four-time starter Bob Shawkey (1920, 1923-1924, 1926), and five-time starter Red Ruffing (1931, 1938-1940). Hall inductee Catfish Hunter started the opener in 1976-1077.
Some Fun Facts
Beginning in 1908, 54 different pitchers have started game one of the season. The youngest was Hippo Vaughn, who was just five days past his 22nd birthday when he started the 1910 (New York Highlanders) opener. That particular start went 14 innings, the longest in Yankees history. The oldest Opening Day starter was “Knucksie”, Phil Niekro, who was a week past this 46th birthday.
Here’s the complete list of the 54 Opening Day starters: