IT’S HERE! IT’S HERE!
Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, children of all ages….welcome to Atlanta Braves Opening Day. Opening Day is the only official, unofficial, federally recognized holiday that allows employees to miss work with no explanation needed. Well, that and St. Patrick’s Day in my hometown of Savannah, GA, but I digress. I mean, I think it’s official. Don’t quote me to your boss, though.
The Atlanta Braves kick off their 2017 campaign today at 1:10 PM (Eastern) against the dirty, cheating New York Mets in Citi Feld. Julio Teheran will take the mound for the Braves, while for the Mets, some guy named after a comic book will take the hill (Noah Syndergaard). Okay, “Thor” is pretty dang good, so it will take a very good performance from Teheran to give Atlanta a chance.
Good opening day performances aren’t something rare for the Braves. Despite the hit and miss success of the franchise since arriving in 1966, the Atlanta Braves have had some memorable Opening Day performances. Some have come from obvious great players, like Tom Glavine or Fred McGriff or Freddie Freeman. Others have come from good role players on some bad teams, like Rick Mahler and Felix Millan.
Today, before spanking some Mets’ rear end, we take a look at some of the top Opening Day performances by Braves. Due to the incompleteness of box scores, we are limiting today’s look to the Atlanta Braves era (1966-current). We may delve deeper into the Milwaukee and Boston eras in a later, more detailed piece.
This list is completely subjective, though based on available records. I used Win Probability Added as the primary determining factor for pitching, with Game Score also considered. For the hitters, I used WPA and RE24. Plus my gut, because it’s my list.
Single Game Pitching
4/6/1982 vs SDP
Game Score: 87
Rick Mahler opened the Braves 1982 season with a complete game, two-hit shutout against the division rival Padres. Mahler walked three and struck out seven en route to a 1-0 victory that started a record-setting 13-0 start to the season.
4/7/1992 vs HOU
Game Score: 90
Almost a full decade later, Glavine opened the Braves follow-up to their magical 1991 season with a complete game shutout of the Astros. He allowed two hits, struck out nine, and walked two.
4/6/1973 vs HOU
Game Score: —
It’s pretty rare that a middle reliever can have a memorable Opening Day performance, and even more rare when that same performance yields a WPA of Greg Maddux levels. But that’s what happened during the season opener in 1973. The Braves and Astros were tied 1-1 in the 8th inning when Harrison entered the game. He went on to pitch 5.0 innings in relief, striking out five and allowing only three hits. He faced three batters over the minimum, and was replaced via a PH in the bottom of the 12th. The Braves failed to score despite having runners on the corners with one out. In the top of the 13th, Cecil Upshaw replaced Harrison and recorded two quick outs, before then allowing a single and double to give the Astros the lead and ultimately the victory.
4/12/1966 vs PIT
Game Score: 84
In the first ever game for the Atlanta Braves, Cloninger impressed many despite taking the loss. Cloninger threw a complete game, which many have done before and since. But this complete game? It was 13 innings. Cloninger allowed 10 hits and three runs over those 13 innings, and set the (still-standing) Opening Day record by an Atlanta Brave of 12 strikeouts. He mixed in three walks for good measure.
Single Game Hitting
4/26/1995 vs SFG
Fresh off a bitter strike that canceled a World Series and alienated most fans, MgGriff opened a soon-to-be magical season by going four out of five, and hitting two home runs. He added three runs scored and five RBI for good measure.
4/5/1971 vs CIN
Millan went four for five with two runs scored, a triple, a walk, and an RBI. On the surface, it doesn’t seem to be a dominating performance, although it is a very good performance. But the key is that most of his production came when the game was tied or late in the game, which is why Millan has the highest WPA foe a single Opening Day by an Atlanta Brave. Everything he did that day helped contribute to the win.
4/2/2001 vs CIN
Lopez went three for five, with two doubles and an RBI. He also scored three runs. Like Millan, everything he did that day led to the victory.
4/2/2007 vs PHI
McCann’s day was well rounded, going three for four with a double, a HR, and two RBI.