Opening Day is two and a half weeks away, which honestly seems like a long time right now. I'm ready for real games to start already, aren't you?
To whet your appetite a bit, here is a list of the top 10 Reds Opening Day pitching performances since 1956:
Harang has made 3 Opening Day starts in his career and this one was easily his best. He hasn't pitched well so far this Spring, but hopefully he can top this performance come April 6th.
The thing that amazes me while researching this list is the number of complete games that used to get thrown on Opening Day. Pitch counts really have changed the way the game is played. This was the only OD that Purkey ever started for the Reds even though he pitched 5 more seasons with them after 1959.
How frustrating must it have been to pitch 9.2 innings on Opening Day, only allow one run, and not get the win? Gullett made 2 Opening Day starts with the Reds (1973 was the other), but the modernist in me wonders if this start wasn't the beginning of the end for Gullett. He was only 24 when he pitched this game and he ended up missing 2 months of the season in 1975. He threw 4 CG in April including one that went 11 innings. Too bad Tommy John didn't invent arm surgery before it was too late for Gullett.
This game was a strong indicator of the type of season that Mario Soto could look forward to in 1982. That season he pitched 257 innings, struck out a team record 274 batters and posted a 2.79 ERA. He finished with a 14-13 record that year with loss number one coming on Opening Day.
There were several other games not on the list where the pitcher had a better Game Score than Nolan, but I have a secret infatuation with the guy, so he makes the list. Seriously though, here we have a 20-year old making his first Opening Day start versus a pretty good Dodger team, and he strikes out 12 hitters in 7 innings. Honestly, I think what Nolan did with the Reds, mostly under the age of 25, is ridiculously under-appreciated by Reds fans when they look at the BRM.
As you know, Soto started more Opening Day games (5) than any other Reds pitcher. What you may not know is that he was impressive in those starts. He pitched 36.2 innings on Opening Day in his career, striking out 28 batters and posting a 1.72 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. Too bad he was on a lousy team most of his career.
O'Toole started 3 Opening Days for the Reds in the early 60s, and he pitched a complete game in every one of them. He wasn't overpowering, but he got the job done and he got the Reds started off on the right foot for a season that would see them win the NL Pennant and face the Yankees in the World Series.
1993 was supposed to be a big year for the Reds. After finishing 2nd to the Braves in 1992, they looked like a pretty good team on paper. When Rijo came out and pitched a gem on Opening Day optimism was incredibly high in the Queen City. But the Reds won just 1 of their next 10 games, and despite going 18-15 after that point, manager Tony Perez was fired just 44 games into the season. The Reds finished with 73 wins that season, 31 games out of first place, and Opening Day ended up being one of the few highlights from the year.
Merritt won 17 games in 1969 and earned himself the Opening Day start with his performance. He didn't disappoint in 1970 either, as he went on to win 20 games, throwing 234 innings and helping the Reds to take the NL Pennant for the first of four times in the decade.
Tom Seaver got a late start to the 1980 season, presumably do to injury, so the Reds were forced to go with someone else on Opening Day. Who did they turn to but 22-year old Frank Pastore, a pitcher who to that point had made just 9 starts in the big leagues. Pastore didn't disappoint though, shutting out the Braves on just 3 hits. It was the only OD shutout by a Red since 1956. Pastore went on to have the best season of his career in 1980 going 13-7 with a 3.27 ERA, but the Reds could only manage a 3rd place finish in the NL West, despite winning 89 games on the season.