Thursday is opening day. Here’s what may or may not happen in the 2011 season:
31: Rafael Soriano loses a 3-1 lead in the eighth and the Yankees lose 4-3 to Detroit in 11. GM Brian Cashman reminds anyone who will listen that he didn’t recommend signing Soriano.
1: Pirates are officially eliminated, writes a Pittsburgh sports writer, with the news Kevin Correia is their opening day pitcher. Pirates win 6-5, increasing Correia’s lifetime record to 37-43.
3: Cardinals offer Albert Pujols 10 years and $300 million to re-sign. Pujols rejects it. “The Pirates are worth $300 million,” he says. “I’m better than the Pirates.”
4: Nationals assign 2010 No. 1 pick Bryce Harper to their low-level A team and say there’s no way he’ll play above AA this year. “He’s only 18,” says GM Mike Rizzo. “Don’t expect too much.” Retorts columnist/baseball fan George Will: “From the Nats we never do expect much. In Harper we trust.”
8: Red Sox’s Carl Crawford walks in his first home at-bat, steals second and third and scores on a wild pitch. Says a youngster to his grandfather: “Does that count?” Says the old-timer: “Don’t know. Never seen it before. Then again, I’ve only been coming since Williams was a rookie.”
12: Reporter asks Orioles manager Buck Showalter how come he never said as an analyst on ESPN what he did in the April issue of Men’s Journal: that Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is “always jumping back from balls just off the plate,” and that he’d “like to see how smart (Red Sox GM Theo Epstein) is with the Tampa Bay payroll.” Showalter ignores question, goes on to rip the Rays, the Jays, the AL Central and the Nationals for being in Washington, so close to Baltimore.
13: Showalter calls Nats GM Mike Rizzo to apologize, says he was taken out of context, which he points out to press, never happened while he was on ESPN.
24. Phillies lose 4-3 in 11 at San Diego to fall to 10-12. Big Four rotation of Lee, Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels is 2-5 with 14 no-decisions, and Hamels is on DL. “Forget about four guys each winning 20 games,” writes one Philly wag. “They’ll be lucky to win 20 games total.”
5: Bryce Harper, hitting .416, is promoted to high Class A level. “Only 18,” says Rizzo. “Hope and change,” writes George Will.
8: Barry Bonds petitions ex-teammates to testify in his perjury trial. Gets 23 volunteers — all for the prosecution. Says Jeff Kent: “Time to bat cleanup.”
18: Cut by Mets and Phillies, Luis Castillo continues tour of NL East when he agrees to join Marlins after they’re hit by a rash of injuries. Inexplicably, Castillo doesn’t show up for first game with new team.
19: Castillo shows up, claims it was all a big misunderstanding and that he needed a day to count the money he was due from the Mets. “It took so long,” said one writer, ”because he was paid in singles, since that’s all he ever hits.”
27: Yankees catcher Russell Martin, signed as a free agent, hitting only .177 after 112 at-bats. Says Cashman: “I didn’t recommend him either.”
5: Mets’ financial situation gets so bad, financial wreck Lenny Dykstra puts in a bid for his old team. Asked what he’ll use for collateral, Dykstra says: “Lateral? That’s football, dude. We’re talking baseball.”
7: Derek Jeter’s hit in the first inning is the 3,000 of his career. Game is stopped, Jeter is given the ball and standing ovation. He is greeted on the field by great influences on his career — parents, Joe Torre, Joe Girardi, Tino Martinez, Jeremy Giambi, Mariah Carey, Jeffrey Maier. Monument to Jeter is unveiled. “In center field,” points out Cashman, who floated the idea in the offseason of Jeter playing the position. “How appropriate.” ESPN announces new 30 on 30 series feature on Jeter — all 30 episodes on Jeter — to debut on its new network: ESPNJeter. Yankees owner Hank Steinbrenner asks if the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, scheduled for a Sunday, can be switched so Jeter can be added to the Class of 2011. “Wait five years after he’s retired?” says Steinbrenner. “Jeter shouldn’t have to wait five minutes.”
12: Batting .383 and slugging .652, Nats promote Harper to high Class AA. As write-in candidate, Harper is seventh among NL outfielders in voting for MLB All-Star Game and second among Nats. “I know voter fraud,” writes George Will. “This isn’t it.”
18: Roger Clemens accepts plea for upcoming perjury trial when he sees a list of prosecution witnesses includes Mike Piazza and discovery reveals a certain broken baseball bat will be introduced into evidence.
3: Cardinals offer Pujols 10 years, $400 million and his name and uniform number written in Cardinal red on one side of the arch. Pujols turns it down, says he’s worth both sides of the arch.
12: Manny Ramirez has no errors at the All-Star break. When asked why, he says it’s because he’s learned how to adjust to the wind in his new home park, Tropicana Stadium. When questioner points out the Trop has a dome, Manny looks up quizzically. No one else has the heart to point out Manny has been the DH in 57 games.
18: Pedro Feliciano’s ERA climbs to 6.24, makes Yankees fans yearn for Damaso Marte. “Nope,” says Cashman, “didn’t recommend signing him either.”
24: Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven inducted into Hall of Fame as Pete Rose autographs balls for a fee in a tent outside the ceremony. Rose draws the bigger crowd. Says Rose: “Look, I don’t want to knock those guys, but do you know how many hits Alomar had? Two-thousand-seven-hundred-twenty-four. I had that many before I learned what an over-under was. Do you know how many I had? 4,256. Do you know how many more that is?” Rose pauses. “A lot. I don’t know exactly — if I was better at math, I wouldn’t have taken the Seahawks and the points so much last year.”
30: Donald Trump announces formally he’s running for president, asks Derek Jeter to be his vice presidential candidate. Jeter declines, says he didn’t play second fiddle for Alex Rodriguez, he’s not going to start for a guy whose penthouse and little black book (or Blackberry) aren’t as good as Jeter’s.
5: Yankees comeback pitcher Bartolo Colon beats Red Sox 4-2 for 12th win in 15 decisions. “He’s here only because I recommended him,” says Cashman.
12: Braves retire ex-manager Bobby Cox’s number at pregame ceremony, and umpire Joe West throws Cox out of the ceremony. Cox laughs. West doesn’t. They wind up nose to nose before Cox is escorted off the field.
20: Cardinals offer Pujols 10 years, $450 million, his likeness on a dome over Busch Stadium and Stan Musial’s nickname, “The Man.” Pujols declines, says, “The Man” is too 20th century.
26: Seattle’s Felix Hernandez throws a two-hitter but loses to the White Sox 1-0 on an unearned run. He’s 10-12 with a 1.45 ERA and he asks management to send him to the minor leagues. “If they’re going to put a minor league team behind me, then that’s where I should be,” he says. Ichiro offers to go with him.
4. Nats promote Harper, batting .336 in AA, and put him in the lineup before a sellout crowd. “Eighteen-year-olds can vote and fight in wars,” says Rizzo. George Will is so excited for Harper’s debut he puts his bow tie on vertically. Will goes on ABC’s This Week and declares that 2012 will be a banner year. “Because the Republicans will win the White House?” asks host Christiane Amanpour. “Even better,” says Will. “Harper. Strasburg. Werth. Zimmerman and Zimmermann. That’s the ticket.”
12. Cardinals offer Pujols 10 years, $500 million and 51% ownership of the team. Pujols holds out for the first three picks in the team’s fantasy football draft, then signs. He’s listed on the roster as owner/first baseman. Manager Tony La Russa shows Pujols lineup card and asks if Skip Schumaker or Nick Punto should play second base. “We’re still using lineup cards?” asks Pujols. “Paper lineup cards? Can’t we go digital? Do you know much paper costs?”
26: Rays beat Yankees to clinch AL East. Yankees finish second, injury-riddled Red Sox third. As Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon celebrate, a reporter asks what the difference is between 2011 and 2004, when Ramirez and Damon helped Red Sox win a World Series. Ramirez, who made $20 million in 2004 and $2 million in 2011, pauses, then says: “About $18 million.”
24: Braves and Twins in World Series. Ted Turner shows up for opening game in Atlanta but no one will let him in. Fortunately, there’s 6,000 unsold tickets.
31: Braves win Series in 5, clinching at Minnesota. Jason Heyward slugs three home runs in Series; he said he was tired of hearing about Lonnie Smith. “He’s not going to take my job,” Heyward says. Longtime Braves fans say difference from 1991 is Twins, in outdoor stadium, not being able to blow the air conditioning in while the Braves bat.