Historic meeting for Verlander, Ellsbury
March, 26, 2012
By Buster Olney | ESPN Insider
David Richard/US PresswireComing off an MVP season, Justin Verlander will get the ball on Opening Day for Detroit.The first pitch of the American League's regular season will happen in a couple of days, thrown by Brandon McCarthy, and when the rest of the AL teams begin their respective schedules on April 5, we likely will see something we've never seen before.
Justin Verlander, the reigning AL MVP, will take the ball for the Detroit Tigers on Opening Day, and the first Boston Red Sox hitter he will face will probably be Jacoby Ellsbury -- who finished second in the MVP voting last offseason. It could be a neat little piece of trivia, and incredibly, something very close to this unique matchup has happened on two other occasions, many years ago.
Here's the first-start history of starting pitchers who won the MVP the previous fall:
Roger Clemens, 1987: He actually didn't pitch the Red Sox season opener; he threw the home opener, in Boston's fifth game of the season, and the first hitter he faced was Tony Fernandez.
Vida Blue, 1972: He didn't make his debut until late May that season because of a contract dispute with owner Charlie Finley.
Bob Gibson, 1969: He opened that season against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Matty Alou, who finished 11th in the MVP voting the year before.
Denny McLain, 1969: His first start that year was against the Indians, and Jose Cardenal was the first hitter he faced.
Sandy Koufax, 1964: He pitched a shutout on Opening Day, of course, and the first hitter he faced was Julian Javier.
Don Newcombe, 1957: The Dodgers opened that season against the Phillies, who had Richie Ashburn in the leadoff spot after he finished 30th in the MVP voting the year before.
Bobby Shantz, 1953: He started the Athletics' second game of the season and faced Billy Martin to open the bottom of the first.
Hal Newhouser, 1946: The Tigers' right-hander, known as Prince Hal, faced the Browns, and Bob Dillinger first, on Opening Day. It was Dillinger's first career at-bat.
Newhouser, 1945: After winning the first of two MVPs, Newhouser faced Dan Gutteridge on Opening Day. Gutteridge had finished 19th in the MVP voting the year before.
Spud Chandler, 1944: He pitched the Yankees' fourth game that season, and then entered the military.
Mort Cooper, 1943: He opened that year against the Reds and Lonny Frey, who had finished 27th in the MVP voting the year before.
Bucky Walters, 1940: He got the ball in the Reds' third game of that season, and Jimmy Brown was the first hitter he faced. Brown had finished sixth in the MVP voting the year before.
Carl Hubbell, 1937: He actually started the Giants' second game that season, after winning the MVP the previous fall, and Debs Garms was the first hitter he faced.
Dizzy Dean, 1935: The Cardinals opened that season in Chicago, and Augie Galan led off the bottom of the first for the Cubs.
Lefty Grove, 1932: Connie Mack lined him up to start the second game of the season against the Yankees. The first hitter: Samuel Byrd. The fourth hitter Grove faced was Lou Gehrig, who -- like Ellsbury -- finished second in the MVP voting the year before.
Dazzy Vance, 1925: Throwing for the Brooklyn Robins, Vance opened the season by pitching to George Burns of the Phillies.
Walter Johnson, 1925: The Senators aligned him to start the fifth game of that season against the Athletics, and Max Bishop was the leadoff hitter for the Athletics.
Johnson, 1914: He had become the first pitcher to win the MVP. Baseball-reference.com doesn't have the game logs from the 1914 season, but the guy who finished second the year before was Shoeless Joe Jackson -- and the Senators opened the 1914 season against Boston.
• Oakland's regulars did well in an exhibition, writes Susan Slusser. Brian Fuentes had a queasy helicopter ride.
Yoenis Cespedes will hit fifth in the Oakland lineup in the opener, writes Joe Stiglich.
The top of the Oakland lineup will apparently look like this:
1. Jemile Weeks
2. Cliff Pennington
3. Coco Crisp
4. Seth Smith
• The Seattle Mariners lost an exhibition game to Hanshin. Felix Hernandez is happy with the Mariners.
• Daniel Bard had his best day as a starter. He should get the spot in the rotation, writes Nick Cafardo. Felix Doubront is making a good case for himself, writes Peter Abraham.
• The Cincinnati Reds have options to replace Ryan Madson, writes Hal McCoy.
• I don't think the toughest thing will be explaining how the Miami Marlins came up with the thing that they use to celebrate home runs. No, the hardest thing will be describing it. You've got the Mets' apple, and Bernie Brewers' slide ... and the Marlins have a ... water-spouting, light-flashing, marlin-jumping ... thing.
• Joba Chamberlain is likely to speak to reporters later in the week, and he's expected to tell them his life was never in jeopardy after his accident last Thursday.
Joe Girardi said Sunday that he's optimistic Joba will pitch for the Yankees this year.
• The Tampa Bay Rays say that Matt Bush will not be part of their organization.
• Wade Davis had another rough day Sunday. Scouts who've seen the Rays this spring believe Tampa Bay will place Jeff Niemann in the rotation and Davis in the bullpen.
• Bobby Abreu was asked to explain comments that were critical of the Angels' organization.
The fight for jobs
1. Donovan Solano is battling Donnie Murphy for a job.
Remember that at this time of year, teams often choose the path of least resistance. It's easier to keep a player who is already on the roster, even if he's been outplayed by a non-roster player.
2. Pedro Alvarez has had a rough spring, but he will open the year in the majors, says Neal Huntington.
3. There are more than two guys battling for the final spot on the Detroit roster.
4. Brandon Inge isn't helping his chances of being the Tigers' every-day second baseman, writes Tom Gage.
Chris Getz appears to be the Royals' second baseman, after Johnny Giavotella was sent to the minors. From Bob Dutton's story:
- The decision speaks to the club's preference for defensive stability and means Chris Getz and Yuniesky Betancourt will share duty at second base. Betancourt will also serve as the club's primary backup at shortstop and third base.
- "(Giavotella) needs to continue to focus on his defense," manager Ned Yost said. "Johnny is a much better defender today than he was at this time last year, but we had two better defensive options in Betancourt and Getz."