- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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:
Vida Blue, 1972: He didn't make his debut until late May that season because of a contract dispute with owner Charlie Finley.
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.
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.
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.
The top of the Oakland lineup will apparently look like this:
1. Jemile Weeks
3. Coco Crisp
4. Seth Smith
• 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 fight for jobs
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.
3. There are more than two guys battling for the final spot on the Detroit roster.
- 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."
If Jacoby Ellsbury hits leadoff for the Red Sox on Opening Day against Justin Verlander, a little bit of MVP history and trivia will be made, writes Buster Olney.