There are no Major League baseball games today, and even if the coronavirus outbreak had not forced the indefinite postponement of Opening Day, the 2020 season would not have been scheduled to start until Thursday.
Six years ago today, however, there was baseball — under somewhat unusual circumstances. March 22, 2014, brought the earliest regular-season game in MLB history, and the first to take place in Australia. The season-opening two-game series between the Dodgers and D-backs was played at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground, about a week before the rest of the league got underway.
It was an exciting but strange experience for the clubs.
Ultimately, the Dodgers won both games Down Under, setting them up for a 94-win season and the second of what has now become seven straight National League West titles. For Arizona, it was the start of a 98-loss, last-place slog that cost manager Kirk Gibson his job.
So let’s turn back the clock a bit and take a look at our box score of the day — from the Dodgers’ 3-1 victory in that 2014 opener, which was played in the middle of the night back in Los Angeles.
Player of the game: Clayton Kershaw, SP, Dodgers
Even six years later, this shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise. This game occurred just a few days after Kershaw turned 26, and he already was a two-time Cy Young Award winner, including in 2013, when he posted a 1.83 ERA in 236 innings. Two months earlier, he and the Dodgers agreed to a seven-year extension worth $215 million.
Even on a different continent, Kershaw was in command in this one, allowing just one run on five hits over 6 2/3 innings while striking out seven. Unfortunately for the lefty, after the Dodgers returned home but before he could make his next start, he went on the injured list with a shoulder strain. The Australia trip may or may not have been a factor, but either way, Kershaw made up for lost time. He finished 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA in 27 starts — including 1.43 over his final 23 — and took both Cy Young and MVP honors.
Remember him? Scott Van Slyke, LF, Dodgers
The son of three-time All-Star outfielder Andy Van Slyke was the Dodgers’ 14th-round pick in the 2005 Draft and took a long road to the Majors before debuting in ‘12. He proceeded to carve out a part-time role in Los Angeles for the next six seasons, but ‘14 was his peak.
The 6-foot-4 right-handed slugger hit .297/.386/.524 (157 OPS+) and smacked 11 homers across 246 plate appearances, mostly as a platoon outfielder. Van Slyke destroyed lefties (1.045 OPS), and that began in this game, as he doubled and slapped a two-run shot off Wade Miley that sneaked just inside the right-field foul pole and was the key offensive play of the night.
He wore THAT uniform? Didi Gregorius, PH, D-backs
This offseason saw the end of Sir Didi’s Yankees tenure, as the veteran shortstop left to sign a free-agent deal with the Phillies. But Gregorius had become such an integral player in the Bronx that it’s hard to recall what came before he was the man who followed Derek Jeter in pinstripes.
Originally signed by the Reds, Gregorius played eight games for Cincinnati in 2012, then went to Arizona in a three-team trade that also involved Trevor Bauer and Shin-Soo Choo. In between then and the three-team deal in December ‘14 that shipped him to New York, Gregorius played 183 fairly unremarkable games for the D-backs, producing a .682 OPS. He didn’t start this one, but struck out as a pinch-hitter against Kershaw in the fifth inning.
Before he was big: Justin Turner, 2B, Dodgers
Roughly six weeks before this game, the Dodgers made what seemed to be a small transaction, signing Turner to a Minor League deal, a couple of months after the Mets had let him go, carrying a career .684 OPS. Turner won a job with a strong spring and found himself in the Opening Day lineup, playing second base, batting second, and going 1-for-4.
Nobody knew it at the time, but it was the start of one of the most impressive late-blooming breakouts in recent history. The 29-year-old embraced swing changes that foreshadowed what soon would be embraced across baseball, hitting .340/.404/.493 in a part-time role that season and becoming one of the game’s best hitters over the next five years.
Last call: Eric Chavez, PH, D-backs
We could have picked famous bearded person Brian Wilson here — did you remember he played for the Dodgers in his final two seasons from 2013-14? But let’s focus on Chavez, who struck out as a pinch-hitter against Kershaw in this one.
A star with the A’s in the early 2000s as a slick-fielding, smooth-swinging third baseman, Chavez produced more WAR through age 27 (30.6) than Chipper Jones, only to have injuries wreck his career. The six-time Gold Glove Award winner never reached 400 plate appearances in a season after 2006 but enjoyed a bit of a renaissance as a part-timer with the Yankees in ‘12, and the D-backs for two years after that. Chavez was hitting well in a bench role in ‘14, but a troublesome knee injury forced him out of action in June and led to his retirement.