A huge Tigers feast

In the first few days of the season, there have been wins -- and only wins -- for the once lowly Tigers.

Originally Published: April 9, 2004
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

If the Tigers are in first place, the Mariners are in last place and Jose Offerman is outhomering Jim Thome, then one thing is clear: It isn't last year.

But that's the beauty of baseball: Every April, the whole sport seems to turn itself upside-down. And here's all the proof you need, in this first-week-of-the-season edition of the Useless Information Department:

Useless Tigers information

  • How 'bout them Tigers? They're the first team to blast out of the gates 4-0 (or even 3-0) coming off a season of at least 110 losses since the 1899 St. Louis Perfectos, who tried to live up to their name by starting 7-0 (and 9-1), following a 39-111 season.

  • How different has this start been for this team? Before Opening Day, the Tigers hadn't spent a single day over .500 since April 9, 2001 (a span so long, Barry Bonds hit 163 home runs in between).

  • And before Wednesday, they hadn't been three games over .500 since Sept. 5, 2000 (a span so long, Todd Helton accumulated 281 extra-base hits in between).

    Pudge Rodriguez
    Rodriguez

  • And before Thursday, they hadn't been four games over .500 since the final day of the 1993 season -- which takes in a mind-boggling 1,557 games. That was so long ago, Pudge Rodriguez got 1,570 hits in between -- which is more than all but 15 other catchers since 1900 got in their whole careers.

  • The Tigers swept one series on the road all last season (in Baltimore). They swept their first series on the road this season.

  • Never, at any point, did the Tigers have three starting pitchers win back-to-back-to-back last year. But Jason Johnson, Mike Maroth, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Cornejo all won in the first four games of this year.

  • Maroth and Bonderman followed each other in the rotation for much of last season but never won back-to-back -- and only won once on a single orbit through the rotation (Aug. 2, Maroth over Minnesota; and Aug. 7, Bonderman over Oakland). They then won back-to-back on their first spin through the rotation this year.

  • How unprecedented was it for the Tigers even to be above .500 for their home opener? Useless Info ambassador Danny Knobler, Booth Newspapers' Tigers beat man, reports that this was the first time it had happened in (gulp) 20 years.

  • Knobler also reports that that opener marked only the seventh game in the history of Comerica Park (now in its fifth season) in which the Tigers actually held a winning record when the game started. (The Yankees, on the other hand, haven't played a game in Yankee Stadium while they had a losing record since April 11, 1998.)

  • Just since the last time they began a season 3-0, the Tigers started six seasons by going 0-3 (1990, 1992, 1994, 1997, 2002, 2003).

  • That three-game sweep in Toronto lifted the Tigers into undisputed possession of first place. And it had been a while since that happened, too -- since June 23, 1993, to be exact. Greg Maddux won almost 200 games (187) in that humongous interim.

  • What were the odds the Tigers would be the first team in the major leagues to throw a shutout? Last year, they were shut out nine times before they threw their first shutout.

  • As loyal reader David Hallstrom points out, last year it took the Tigers 51 2/3 innings (the seventh inning of Game 6) even to take a lead in any game. It took them only 3 2/3 this year. In fact, it took until the 19th inning of this season before they trailed in a game.

  • And if the Angels lose Friday, it would make the Tigers the last team in baseball to lose a game this year. Who'd have thunk? The previous two seasons, they were the last team in either league to win a game.

  • So where is this all leading? Well, according to Knobler, 14 teams started 4-0 over the previous nine years -- and 13 of them finished with a winning record. For the only exception, you have to go all the way back to, well, last year -- when the Pirates started 4-0 but finished 75-87.

    Happy useless New Year department

  • The Tigers, Brewers and Padres weren't over .500 for a single day all last season. They all won on Opening Day this season.

  • But the biggest miracle was that the Tigers, Brewers and Pirates all won their openers. It took until June 14 for all three to win on the same day last year -- and it happened just five times all season. The last time all three won on Opening Day: 1988. (Blast-from-the-past winning pitchers in 1988: Jack Morris for Detroit, Teddy Higuera for Milwaukee, Mike Dunne for Pittsburgh.)

  • The Brewers won one game in St. Louis all last year. They won the first two games of the season in St. Louis this year.

    The Sultan's Corner
  • There was no cooler moment in the two games in Japan last month than Hideki Matsui's homer in the Tokyo Dome. Which made him, of course, the only Japanese native to homer in Japan in a major-league game. So the Sultan of Swat Stats, SABR's David Vincent, furnished us with a list of most career homers by big leaguers in their homeland (or island):

    Americans in U.S.: Hank Aaron, 750 (hit five in Canada)
    Canadians in Canada: Larry Walker 56 (all in Montreal)
    Mexicans in Mexico: Vinny Castilla two
    Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico: Jose Vidro three (all last season in Expos "home" games)

  • Besides becoming the first American player to hit home runs from each side of the plate on the other side of the Pacific, Jorge Posada also made it to the top of another prestigious list in Tokyo -- the Mr. March home run standings.

    The three men in history with two March homers, according to the Sultan:

    Posada (two-HR game on March 31, 2004)
    Corey Patterson (two-HR game on Opening Day, 2003)
    Vinny Castilla (two-HR game in Arizona, 1998)

  • Speaking of Japanese sluggers, Kazuo Matsui made it onto all kinds of fascinating lists by kicking off his career with a homer.

    He was the first man to hit a home run on the first pitch of his team's season since Dwight Evans did it in 1986.

    He was the first man to hit a leadoff Opening-Day homer in his big-league debut since Emmet Mueller did it for the 1938 Phillies.

    And he became the seventh active player who has led off the first game of the season with a home run. The others, according to the Sultan:

    1988: Julio Franco (for Cleveland vs. Texas)
    1994: Ray Lankford (for St. Louis at Cincinnati)
    1999: Juan Encarnacion (for Detroit at Texas)
    2000: Shannon Stewart (for Toronto vs. Kansas City)
    2002: Jacque Jones (for Minnesota at Kansas City)
    2003: Ray Durham (for San Francisco at San Diego)

  • The home-run event of the week, though, was the sight of two guys named Luis Gonzalez homering in the same inning (the ninth) of the Arizona-Colorado opener Tuesday.

    Thanks to technical Alex Gonzalez difficulties, the only other time two guys with the same name have ever homered in the same inning (or game), according to the Sultan, was Sept. 14, 1990, when Ken Griffey Jr. and Sr. homered back-to-back for the Mariners. So it's never been done (obviously) by opponents. (More on this spectacular and historic event in the next edition of Wild Pitches.)

  • We mentioned earlier that three new Brewers -- Craig Counsell, Lyle Overbay and Chad Moeller -- all homered in the same game this week. Had they ever done that as Diamondbacks, they would have been just the third threesome in history to hit homers in the same game for two different teams. The others, according to the Sultan:

    Billy Conigliaro, Joe Lahoudm George Scott: Red Sox and Brewers
    Woodie Held, Billy Martin, Vic Power: Indians and Athletics

  • No, Barry Bonds doesn't hit an Opening-Day homer every year. But he has hit four in the last four years (after a 12-year gap). His Opening-Day victims, courtesy of the Sultan:

    1988 Shane Rawley
    1989 Joe Hesketh
    2001 Woody Williams
    2002 Kevin Brown and Omar Daal
    2004 Roy Oswalt

  • When Carlos Beltran and Shannon Stewart hit walkoff home runs Opening Day, it marked only the second season in history in which two different teams hit game-ending home runs in their openers. The other, according to the Sultan, was 1960 -- when Chuck Essegian did it for the Dodgers (11th inning) and Minnie Minoso did it for the White Sox (ninth). The oddity there was that those games were played a week apart, due to meteorological issues.

  • The Twins pulled off a fabulous rarity in their first two games of the season -- a walkoff homer Opening Day (by Stewart), a game-tying shot with two outs in the ninth in Game 2 (by Jacque Jones). How often do you see that? Well, here, courtesy of the Sultan, are all the teams in the last 25 years that hit game-ending homers and game-tying homers in back-to-back games, in the ninth inning or later:

    American League
    White Sox June 18 -19, 1985 (Harold Baines, Carlton Fisk)
    Mariners, Sept. 16-17, 1987 (Rey Quinones, Jim Presley)
    Blue Jays, May 2-3, 1995 (Roberto Alomar, Roberto Alomar)
    Tigers Aug. 22-25, 1995 (Lou Whitaker, Chad Curtis)
    Tigers, Sept. 17-18, 1998 (Damion Easley, Tony Clark)
    Royals, June 9-10, 2002 (Raul Ibanez, Raul Ibanez)

    National League
    Pirates, July 7-8, 1987 (Jim Morrison, Andy Van Slyke)
    Dodgers, Aug. 16-17, 1991 (Darryl Strawberry, Gary Carter)
    Padres, May 20-21, 1993 (Fred McGriff, Derek Bell)
    Mets, July 30-31, 1996 (Todd Hundley, Bernard Gilkey)
    Phillies, July 24 (DH), 1998 (Scott Rolen, Mark Lewis)
    Diamondbacks, May 11-12, 1999 (Luis Gonzalez, Matt Williams)

  • Finally, San Diego's Petco Park just became the 251st stadium to open in big-league history -- but only the second, according to the Sultan, to have its first home run come in extra innings. Here's the complete set:

    County Stadium, Milwaukee: Bill Bruton, April 14, 1953, 10th inning
    Petco Park, San Diego: Marquis Grissom, April 8, 2004, 10th inning

  • Then again, the Brewers beat the Cardinals only three times last year in 16 games -- but beat them three times this year just in the first series.

  • Before this year, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Royals had played 2,759 home games in team history and had never come from four runs down (or more) in the bottom of the ninth to win a game. They did it against the White Sox in their first game this year.

  • But that's not all. Before that rally, Elias reports, no team had scored six runs or more in the ninth inning on Opening Day since the 1929 Giants did it against the Phillies. And no team had rallied from at least four runs down in the ninth to win on Opening Day since the 1901 Tigers came from nine back to beat Milwaukee in the first game in Tigers history.

  • Last year, Cory Lidle (5.75) and Shawn Estes (5.73) had the highest ERAs of any starting pitchers in their respective leagues (minimum: 150 IP and 25 GS). This year, they both started Opening Day. Lidle, according to Elias, was the first pitcher to start on Opening Day after finishing last in the major leagues in ERA since the immortal Jaime Navarro did it for the 1998 White Sox.

  • The first shutout of the season came in a game started by Jason Johnson (Tigers). There were 72 shutouts in the big leagues last year. He started none of them.

  • Pedro Martinez faced 303 right-handed hitters last season and gave up no home runs. This year, he served up a homer to the third right-handed hitter he faced (Javy Lopez).

  • Lopez, meanwhile, was a member of the Braves for 10 Opening Days and never homered on any of them. Then he homered on his first Opening-Day pitch as an Oriole.

  • Jose Mesa ripped off exactly one 1-2-3 save for the Phillies after June 9 last year. Naturally, he spun a 1-2-3 save against the Phillies, for the Pirates, opening night.

  • Last year, Detroit's Nate Cornejo had the lowest strikeout ratio (2.13 per nine innings) of any pitcher who worked at least 190 innings in the last half-century. This year, he struck out more hitters in his first start (four) than last season's AL strikeout champ, Esteban Loaiza (two).

  • Roy Halladay made six starts last September and gave up a total of nine runs. He went 6 2/3 innings Opening Day against the Tigers -- and gave up seven runs. Halladay lost no games by seven runs or more last year -- and lost 7-0 on Opening Day.

  • Last year, Jermaine Dye hit two home runs between Opening Day and the All-Star break. He hit two in his first 10 at-bats this year.

  • Jason Kendall was the second-toughest hitter in the National League to strike out last year (behind just Juan Pierre). He whiffed in his first at-bat of this year.

  • Tom Glavine went 0-4 with a 10.35 ERA against his old pals, the Braves, last year -- then beat them on Opening Day this year.

  • Russ Ortiz made 36 starts for the Braves last year, including the postseason, and made it at least through the third inning in every one of them. He got knocked out after 2 1/3 in his first start of this year -- the shortest Opening-Day start by a Brave since Zane Smith also went 2 1/3 in 1989.

  • Kevin Brown made 137 starts for the Dodgers. They scored 12 runs (or more) for him once. (They scored 14, on June 26, 2001, against the Giants -- and he didn't even get the win.) The Yankees scored 12 for him in his first start in those pinstripes.

  • Orioles sprint champ Jay Gibbons stole no bases last year -- but swiped one opening night.

  • Milwaukee's Brady Clark hit one home run last year in April, May and June combined. In the first game he started this year, he hit two.

  • In Arizona last year, Craig Counsell, Lyle Overbay and Chad Moeller never homered in the same game. But as loyal reader George Lind III reports, they all homered in the second game they played together this year as Brewers. (More on this in the Sultan's Corner.)

  • And the Pirates didn't win a series at home last year until June 19. They won their first series at home this year (over the Phillies).

    More useless info

  • We love to say that Opening Day is essentially meaningless. Maybe not. Over the last three seasons, teams that eventually went to the playoffs went 16-8 in their openers.

  • On the other hand, the Devil Rays have the longest Opening-Day winning streak in the majors (5-0 since Opening Day 2000). Unfortunately, through Thursday, they were 154 games under .500 since then on all those other days.

  • Believe it or not, it might not be such a hot idea to start your local Cy Young award winner Opening Day. Over the last two seasons, nine openers were started by former Cy Young winners -- and they went a combined 2-6, with one no-decision. The only two wins were by Roger Clemens last year and Tom Glavine this year.

  • The Twins and Indians started their season by working overtime -- going 11 innings opening night and 15 in Game 2. The last time two teams played back-to-back games of 11 innings or more to start their season, according to Elias was 1969, when the Twins did it against Kansas City and the Red Sox did it against Baltimore. And those '69 Red Sox apparently loved that marathon stuff so much, they also went 16 innings in Game 3 (vs. Cleveland).

  • Another first for Roger Clemens, thanks to the beauties of National League rules: In his first start in the NL, he did something he never did in the AL: He got as many hits (one) as he allowed.

  • In 11 seasons as a Brave, Greg Maddux never hit the first batter he faced in any season. But he did it Wednesday, in his first season back with the Cubs. Coincidentally, he also did it to kick off his last season as a Cub, when he plunked Lenny Dykstra -- and broke Dykstra's hand.

  • And in his first 18 seasons in the big leagues, Maddux never hit two batters in an inning. In his first inning as a Cub this year, naturally, he beaned two Reds.

  • Kevin Brown was the winning pitcher in each of the Yankees' first two wins of the season. When was the last time the same pitcher got the win in each of the Yankees' first two victories in any season? In 1975, when Doc Medich did it.

  • Before Tuesday, Jack McKeon had held five big-league managing jobs -- but hadn't won on Opening Day since 1977 (when Mike Torrez beat the Twins for him on Opening Day in Oakland). That was three years before the pitcher who won his next opener, Josh Beckett, marked his Opening Day on planet earth.

    McKeon's 26 years, 363 days between Opening-Day wins set an all-time record, according to Elias. The top three:

    26 years, 363 days: Jack McKeon (April 9, 1977-April 6, 2004)
    17 years, 362 days: Billy Herman (April 15, 1947-April 12, 1965)
    17 years, 7 days: Burt Shotton (April 12, 1932-April 19, 1949)

    Dontrelle Willis
    Willis

  • You may have heard this week that Dontrelle Willis' three-hit game Thursday was the first by a Marlins pitcher since Chris Hammond did it in 1995. Well, not exactly. It was actually the first time a Marlins pitcher had done it since, well, Willis' last start -- in Game 4 of the 2003 NLDS. Of course, postseason games don't count (not for regular-season trivia purposes, anyway).

  • Jamie Moyer has given up six earned runs in his first start in each of the last two seasons. In between, he never gave up six in any start.

  • Thanks to the miracle of March 30 baseball in Japan, the standings that day provided a sight no current 12-year-old kid had ever seen in his lifetime -- the Yankees with the worst record in baseball (0-1). The last time that bizarre occurrence appeared in the standings: after games of May 7, 1991, when they were 7-16, following an Andy Hawkins loss to the Angels.

  • But you see all kinds of wild sights in those April standings. The Brewers were in first place for the first time in almost nine years -- since May 9, 1995 (which was 276 Brett Favre touchdown passes ago). And the Devil Rays were in first place after Opening Day for the first time in franchise history.

  • By beating the Yankees twice in their first three games this year, the Rays actually found themselves ahead of the Yanks in the standings for two whole days. Loyal reader David Hallstrom reports that before this year, the Devil Rays had led the Yankees in the standings for exactly 14 days in team history -- 10 of them in the first two weeks in the life of the franchise, the other four from April 1-4, 2002.

  • We've been tracking one of baseball's most fun phenomena -- pitching appearances by nonpitchers -- for 12 seasons. And Cardinals catcher Cody McKay's outing Thursday set a record for earliest appearance by a mystery pitcher in any season in that span. The previous record: In 1994, the Royals pitched David Howard on April 12, in Game 6 of their season.

  • McKay's two-inning outing also marked the first two-inning appearance by a nonpitcher in a nine-inning game since June 17, 1993 -- when Chili Davis spun two perfect innings for the Angels in a 17-2 loss to Texas.

    Adam LaRoche
    LaRoche

  • It isn't every day a guy making his big-league debut gets the first two hits of his career in the same inning. But Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche did it Wednesday.

    According to Elias, he joins Wilkin Ruan (2002 Dodgers), Greg North (1996 White Sox) and Chad Kreuter (1988 Rangers) as the only players in the last 16 years to get their first two hits in the same inning. But he's only the fourth guy in history (and first ever in the NL) to do that in his major-league debut. That list:

    Billy Martin, Yankees: April 18, 1950
    Russ Morman, White Sox: Aug. 3, 1986
    Chad Kreuter, Rangers: Sept. 14, 1988
    Adam LaRoche, Braves: April 7, 2004

  • It also isn't every day you see the reigning MVP start on Opening Day at a different position than the one he played the year before. But, of course, Alex Rodriguez did.

    Both Elias and loyal reader Fred Baum report that only one MVP in history has ever played the majority of his games the following year at a different position than in his MVP year. That was the Cubs' Phil Cavaretta, who was primarily a first baseman in 1945 but played more games in the outfield (86) the next year than he did at first (51).

    But remember, A-Rod hasn't joined him on that list yet. He has to avoid playing half a season at shortstop to do that. He does earn a place in Opening-Day trivia history, though -- because Cavaretta was still at first in the 1946 opener, then began playing the outfield because of injuries to Andy Pafko and Bill Nicholson.

  • Finally, this was a big week for Hank Aaron in more ways than one. It wasn't just the 30th anniversary of his 715th homer. He also lost possession of his seemingly unbreakable hold on another honor -- first name in the Baseball Encyclopedia. The historic figure who passed him: Giants pitcher David Aardsma.

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your Useless Information to: uselessinfodept@yahoo.com. Click here to send Jayson a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

    Jayson Stark | email

    Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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