MLB Notebook: Smith's pinch-hit pop spurs Padres
New San Diego outfielder ties game with homer; Cashner solid vs. Dodgers
When Chris Gomez connected on a 1-1 offering from Pete Harnisch to lead off the sixth inning on April 1, 1997, the Padres' hopes for an Opening Day victory suddenly appeared less dim. After all, Gomez's long ball ended Harnisch's shutout bid, cut into what had been a four-run deficit vs. the Mets, and with Gomez hitting in the eighth slot, insured that the top of the order would have at least a couple of outs to play with in the inning. After Gomez circled the bases, Rickey Henderson -- batting for pitcher Joey Hamilton -- came to the plate, and in classic Rickey fashion, he worked the count to 2-2. Then on the fifth pitch, Henderson uncoiled from his unmistakable stance and homered to left: 4-2, Mets. By the time the Padres were ready to retake the field for the top of the seventh, they had collected seven hits, plated 11 runs and, thanks to Rickey's shot, were the proud owners of the franchise's first Opening Day pinch-hit home run.
On Sunday night in the Padres' 2014 opener at Petco Park, the home team erased a late 1-0 deficit with a three-run eighth inning and went on to defeat the Dodgers, 3-1.
With the victory, San Diego improved to 21-25 all time in its first game of the year. This comeback win snapped the team's two-year Opening Day losing streak, and it gave San Diego a 4-5 record against the Dodgers when meeting up against them in the Padres' first game of the season.
San Diego began its comeback when pinch-hitter Seth Smith (playing in his first game with the Padres) homered against Dodgers right-hander Brian Wilson to open the eighth inning.
Smith is the second Padres pinch-hitter to homer in the team's opener, joining Henderson in 1997. In 2012, Milwaukee's George Kottaras homered as a pinch-hitter on Opening Day, and last year, the Astros' Rick Ankiel hit a pinch-hit Opening Day home run. Before Kottaras in 2012, no player had done it since 2008.
• Before Smith, the last Padres player to homer on Opening Day in his first game with the team was Cameron Maybin, on March 31, 2011. Maybin's homer came in the top of the ninth on that day and erased the team's one-run deficit to the Cardinals. San Diego went on to win that contest, 5-3 (the last time it had won its opener).
Smith now has seven pinch-hit home runs in his career -- one that started in 2007. Since the start of the '07 season, Smith's seven tie him with Eric Hinske, Brooks Conrad and Chad Tracy for the fifth most in the Majors. Even though he hasn't played since 2011, Matt Stairs has the most -- 13 -- during this span, and is followed by Scott Hairston (12), Jason Giambi (11) and Greg Dobbs (nine).
• Reflecting on the Padres' three-run rally in the eighth inning: Last season, the team scored three or more runs in the eighth in eight games (just above the National League average), and finished the year with 67 total runs in the frame -- a mark that placed them ninth in the NL.
• Andrew Cashner made the start for the Padres, andallowed one run and four hits in a no-decision. The 27-year-old Cashner -- making his first Opening Day start -- is the 27th hurler to make an Opening Day start for San Diego. In the franchise's 46-year history, Randy Jones, Eric Show and Jake Peavy are tied for the most Opening Day starts, with four apiece.
Cashner's line (which included five strikeouts and two walks) worked out to a game score of 63, which is tied for the 13th highest for a Padres starter on Opening Day; Pat Dobson (1970), Gaylord Perry ('79) and Kevin Jarvis (2002) all produced the same score. The highest game score for an Opening Day starter in the franchise's history belongs to Dick Selma, who produced an 83 in the first game for the club on April 8, 1969. In a 2-1 win over the Astros, the right-hander (making the only Opening Day start of his career) worked a five-hitter, walking two and striking out 12. Selma is one of 11 pitchers since '69 to notch at least 12 strikeouts in an Opening Day start. The most recent pitcher to do this was Felix Hernandez, with 12 punchouts of the Athletics on April 2, 2007.
• During the 2013 season, Padres starters produced an average game score of 50, tying for the second-lowest mark in the NL. Despite making just 26 starts in 2013, Cashner had eight with a Game Score of at least 63, with those eight tying him with Tyson Ross for the team lead.
• Cashner and four Padres relievers combined to allow just four hits (all singles). It's the fourth time in franchise history San Diego has held a club to no doubles, triples or homers on Opening Day. The other occurrences took place in 1976 (against the Braves), '98 (versus the Reds) and 2007 (while blanking the Giants).
Ryu thwarted from record books
The Padres' rally kept Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu from making a little bit of history. Ryu -- who allowed just three hits in seven scoreless innings -- was in line for the victory, and a win in this affair would have made him the first starter to have two wins before the start of April (the Dodgers left-hander got the victory in the team's second game against the D-backs in Australia). Ryu could have also become the first Dodgers pitcher since at least 1914 to start and win two of the team's first three games. Instead, he simply joins Sherry Smith (1916), Watty Clark ('30), Van Mungo ('37) and Don Drysdale ('65) as the only Brooklyn/Los Angeles hurlers since 1914 to start two of the team's first three contests. Clark and Mungo each went 0-2, while Smith and Drysdale each split their two decisions. Across the Majors, the last pitcher to start and win two of his team's first three games was the Devil Rays' Victor Zambrano in 2004.
• On a more positive note, Ryu -- who allowed no runs in five innings in his first start in 2014 -- is the second pitcher since 1914 to start two of his team's first three games and not allow any runs in either of the appearances. He joins the Brewers' Jim Slaton, who did it in 1976, beating the Yankees on a five-hitter on Opening Day and then holding the Tigers to just two hits in a 1-0 victory in the third game.
Ryu is the second Dodgers left-hander in as many years to open the season with consecutive starts of no runs allowed. In 2013, Clayton Kershaw hurled a four-hit shutout on Opening Day and followed that stellar performance with seven innings of two-hit, no-run ball.
Roger Schlueter is senior researcher for MLB Productions. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.