With opening day for the Blue Jays just days away it’s the perfect time to look at the Top 10 Blue Jays season openers. First question I had to answer though is what makes a great opening day? Great pitching or great hitting? An exciting finish or a total blowout? Can you still call opening day great if the Jays lose? There’s no absolute answer to any of those questions of course but it does make you think when you’re going through 35 season openers.
Here’s a few quick fact about the Jays on opening day. In their 35 season openers the Jays are one game over .500 at 18-17. The Jays have opened the season 14 times at home with a record of 9-5. In 20 openers on the road the Jays have gone 8-12 and in one neutral site opener played in Puerto Rico the Jays came away with a win. In season openers at the SkyDome the Jays are 8-4 compared to a 2-1 record in three season openers played at the old Exhibition Stadium.
When picking through the Jays season openers I limited the Top 10 choices to Jays wins to try and make the process easier. It didn’t help exactly though as 13 games stood out form the rest of the pack. Instead of trimming the list completely I’ve decided to go with the Top 10 games with the other three as honorable mentions. Here we go…
April 4, 1994 – Chicago White Sox 3 – Toronto Blue Jays 7
The back-to-back World Series champs started the 1994 season with a bang, with the power provided by Carlos Delgado (starting in left field), Ed Sprague and Roberto Alomar. They all went yard in the win, with Delgado delivering a tape measure shot that would become his calling card in the first month of that season. Pat Borders also started the season strong at the plate, going 3-3.
On the mound Juan Guzman made his first opening day start and pitched seven strong innings, allowing two runs on seven hits with four strikeouts. For the White Sox Jack McDowell had another frustrating day against the Jays and took the loss after giving up four runs in seven innings. In his career against Toronto Black Jack was 5-8 with a 5.25 ERA in 15 starts.
April 4, 2006 – Minnesota Twins 3 – Toronto Blue Jays 6
The 2006 season opener boasted a prime pitching matchup between two Cy Young winners, Roy Halladay and Johan Santana.
The Twins got to Halladay early with a run in the first, but Doc settled down and pitched a strong seven 2-3 innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits. Oddly enough the batters that did the most damage to Halladay were former Jays, as Shannon Stewart and Tony Batista both hit solo home runs.
Santana cruised through the first three innings before running into trouble in the fourth. Troy Glaus started the inning with a double, followed by a Lyle Overbay single. After Shea Hillenbrand plated Glaus with a sac fly Bengie Molina cleared the bases with a two-run home run. Russ Adams delivered a rare RBI single in the sixth inning while Alex Rios capped off a 3-5 day with a two-run home run off Canadian Jesse Crain in the eighth. In total the Jays rocked out 14 hits in a 6-3 win.
April 6, 1987 – Cleveland Indians 3 – Toronto Blue Jays 7
Jimmy Key made his first opening day start in 1987 and didn’t disappoint tossing six solid innings, allowing two runs on three hits. The Jays took an early 1-0 lead in the first on a solo home run by Lloyd Moseby who would finish the game with three RBI. Willie Upshaw would also poke a solo home run, while Fred McGriff worked a couple walks into a pair of runs.
Interestingly all the Indians that made noise in the game would eventually play for the Jays. Starter Tom Candiotti had a horrible start to the season, getting ripped for six runs on eight hits in five innings. Pat Tabler socked a two-run home run for Cleveland, while Cory Snyder also went deep with a solo shot.
The Jays opened the 2001 season in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Putting Esteban Loaiza up against a Rangers lineup that included Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez and Ken Caminiti may not sound like a good idea, but it turned out really well on opening day 2001. Loaiza turned in a gem, holding the powerful Rangers to one run on eight hits with nine strikeouts over seven innings.
With Loaiza throwing smoke Shannon Stewart and Tony Batista provided all the offense the Jays would need. Stewart went 3-5 with a home run and two RBI, while Batista socked a two-run home run. Alex Gonzalez also had a strong opening day (where was this during the rest of the season!) going 3-5 with an RBI and a run scored.
The Jays jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first inning against the Tigers on opening day in 2007. Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells and Alex Rios all picked up an RBI off Tigers’s starter Jeremy Bonderman. That was all the damage they would do against Bonderman though as he settled down and allowed only two more hits over the next five innings.
The lack of offense kept Roy Halladay from picking up a win, as he allowed three runs (two earned) over six innings and left the game with the score tied 3-3.
Joel Zumaya and Todd Jones combined to pitch three perfect innings for Detroit and the score remained tied until the tenth. In extras against Fernando Rodney Troy Glaus singled with the bases loaded to score Jason Smith, and Alex Rios drove in Vernon Wells to give Toronto a 4-2 lead. B.J. Ryan notched the save after an eventful bottom of the tenth that included a single, a walk and a pair of strikeouts.
Willie Upshaw and Rance Mulliniks provided the pop, while Dave Stieb silenced the Red Sox bats in a 7-1 Jays win. Stieb was on his game in the season opener, limiting the Sox to one run on three hits while striking out seven over six innings. His counterpart, Dennis Eckersley was pummeled for seven runs on seven hits in only four innings of work.
Upshaw launched a solo home run for the Jays and had three RBI in the win, while Mulliniks homered and drove in a pair. Ernie Whitt also drove in two runs in the second inning to get Toronto on the board early. Boston only recorded three hits in the game, with the only blemish on Stieb’s day a Dave Stapleton home run in the sixth inning.
With the baseball strike finally over the Blue Jays returned to the field with their latest season opener ever on April 26, 1995 and set a new team-record by knocking out 13 runs against Oakland. Despite the high score there were no home runs hit by either side in the contest.
Toronto broke it open with an 11-run second inning that saw 16 batters head to the plate. Devon White drove in four runs in the inning and finished the day 3-4 with the four RBI and two runs scored. Alex Gonzalez also drove in four runs and Ed Sprague scored three runs in the blowout.
David Cone got the start for Toronto and pitched well, allowing one run over six strong innings. Former Blue Jay Dave Stewart got the call for Oakland and lasted only 1 1-3 innings after getting pounded for nine runs (seven earned) on five hits and three walks. Stewart’s ERA after the shellacking was a ghastly 47.25!
Opening day 2009 boasted another top pitching matchup between Roy Halladay and Justin Verlander. Neither starter lived up to the billing though. Halladay picked up the win, but wasn’t as sharp as usual, allowing five runs on six hits over seven innings.
Toronto got to Verlander from the start, scoring four runs in the first. Adam Lind drove in a pair and later scored on a two-run double by Lyle Overbay. Verlander was gone after 3 2-3 innings after getting roughed up for eight runs. The Jays scored five runs in the fourth led by a solo home run from Travis Snider and a three-run shot from Lind.
Lind drove in another run in a three-run eighth inning and finished the game 4-5 with six RBI and two runs scored.
George Bell was the star of opening day 1988. Bell terrorized Royals’ ace Brett Saberhagen hitting three home runs and driving in four runs. It was an electric start to the season for the reigning AL MVP. The only run that didn’t come off Bell’s bat was a sacrifice fly from Jesse Barfield
Jimmy Key got another opening day start for Toronto and delivered another gem, going six innings and allowing two runs on eight hits. Tom Henke pitched two perfect innings to finish things and record the save. The only Kansas City player to do any real damage in the game was future Hall of Famer George Brett, who homered and drove in a pair of runs.
I remember watching this game while getting supper at a local bar in college. I was the only one in the place with Jays jersey on but I didn’t care. The game had an interesting pitching matchup with Chris Carpenter facing off against Pedro Martinez. It was far from a pitching duel.
The Jays jumped all over Pedro early with three runs in the first and four more in the second bolstered by a two-run double from Darrin Fletcher and three-straight singles by Eric Hinske, Raul Mondesi and Carlos Delgado.
The lead quickly evaporated though as the Red Sox roughed up Carpenter with Jose Offerman, Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek and Tony Clark all going yard. Boston also beat up on reliever Scott Eyre with four hits and two walks in a five-run fourth inning.
After four innings the Sox led 11-8. The Jays struck back quickly though with three runs in the fifth with Mondesi, Jose Cruz Jr. and Fletcher all picking up RBIs. The pitchers finally started getting outs after that and both sides were kept off the board for the next three innings with the score tied 11-11.
In the ninth Fletcher came through again after Mondesi walked, moved up to second on a Carlos Delgado single and then stole third. Fletcher did his job with a long fly ball to center that scored Mondesi as the winning run for his fourth RBI of the game. The Jays and Red Sox combined for 23 runs and 27 hits in the highest scoring opening day game in Jays history.
The Blue Jays started the 2011 by beating up on the Twins thanks to big days from J.P. Arencibia and Adam Lind.
The Jays took a 4-0 lead in the first inning after Adam Lind was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, Aaron Hill and Edwin Encarnacion pumped out sac flies and Travis Snider scored on an error. It’s was a really ugly inning for starter Carl Pavano and the Twins.
The four runs were all Ricky Romero would need after allowing three runs (one earned) over 6 1-3 innings, but the Jays were far from finished. Arencibia cranked a two-run home run in the fourth, while Jose Bautista and Lind went back-to-back with solo shots in the fifth. Arencibia struck again in the fifth as well with a two-run triple.
Arencibia and Lind still weren’t done though, as J.P. cracked a solo homer and Lind delivered an RBI single in the eighth. When the dust settled on the 13-3 Jays victory Arencibia was 3-4 with two home runs and five RBI, while Lind was 2-4 with a home run and three RBI.
This game ended in excitement after a big letdown in the ninth inning.
Shannon Stewart got Toronto on the board right off the bat with a solo home run to lead off the game. Stewart would add another solo blast in the fifth, while Tony Batista and his wonky batting stance delivered a two-run shot in the fourth.
With David Wells on the mound he Jays had a 4-0 lead until the seventh when the Royals cut it in half thanks to a RBI’s by Jermaine Dye and Joe Randa. Wells turned in a solid performance in his only opening day start, going six innings and allowing two runs on five hits while striking out five and walking none.
Still clutching to the 4-2 lead in the ninth closer Billy Koch came on but couldn’t hold the lead. Following a walk to Randa and a double by Mark Quinn future Jay Gregg Zaun pinch hit for Rey Sanchez and came through with a two-run single.
Fans didn’t go home unhappy though. Tony Batistia, already with a home run and two RBI went deep again with a walk-off homer off Jerry Spradlin. A walk-off home run on opening day was a great way to start the season.
Were you really expecting something other than what started it all?
The first game in franchise history started out with snow on the field and chilly temperatures at Exhibition Stadium. Despite all that 44,649 eager fans packed Exhibition Stadium for the monumental occasion.
Bill Singer threw the first pitch in Jays history, a strike to Ralph Garr, and ended up going 4 1-3 innings, allowing 4 runs (three earned) on 11 hits. Chicago scored a pair of runs in the first inning to take a quick 2-0 lead. The Jays cut that in half in the bottom of the first after Doug Ault launched the first home run in Jays history.
The White Sox kept coming with two more runs in the second to take a 4-1 lead, but the Jays answered again in the bottom of the inning thanks to a PedroGarcia RBI-single to trim the lead to 4-2 and Ault found the seats again in the third with a two-run shot to tie it up 4-4.
Canadian Dave McKay gave Toronto their first ever lead with an RBI single in the fourth inning and Toronto would never surrender the lead with more runs coming off a two-run home run from Alvis Woods and another hit from Ault.
The hero of the day was Ault who was 3-4 with a pair of home runs and four RBI to lead Toronto to the 9-5 victory. Jerry Johnson recorded the first win in Jays history after relieving Singer. It’s was a memorable and successful start for the first Jays squad that would go to win only 54 games.
Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com for providing all the box scores and stats for every game I’ve mentioned. I couldn’t have done this without their bounty of information.
Have you own favorite Opening Day Jays games? Let us know if the comments section.