Opening Day is always special. But even before Zack Greinke threw the season’s first pitch, the campaign premiere the KC Royals put on against Cleveland Thursday at Kauffman Stadium promised much more than usual.
The storylines were certainly there, including Greinke himself who, after a 12-year absence from the team he broke in with in 2004, returned last month on a one-year contract many hope becomes a multi-season deal. Fittingly, manager Mike Matheny gave Greinke the honor of starting the opener.
Then there was Adalberto Mondesi’s somewhat controversial return to shortstop after an injury-riddled 2021 season. The club’s plan for him to be its everyday shortstop moved Nicky Lopez back to second and Whit Merrifield, a superb second sacker in his own right, out to right field.
Whether Salvador Perez would pick up where he left off from last year’s record-breaking season was a question.
Not to be forgotten, of course (as if that’s even possible), was the scheduled, anxiously-awaited major league debut of young phenom Bobby Witt Jr., the 21-year-old shortstop-turned-third-baseman who’d played only 161 professional games, all in the minors, before Thursday.
The stage was set. And for the most part, neither the team or the storylines disappointed—while Mondesi unfortunately went hitless in three at-bats and Perez didn’t homer, Greinke and Witt delivered as Kansas City beat the Guardians 3-1.
Zack Greinke and Bobby Witt Jr. spurred the KC Royals to an Opening Day win.
Unlike last season, when a shaky rotation too often failed to give Kansas City a chance, Greinke kept the Royals in this one from the beginning. He retired eight Guardians in a row at one point, scattered five hits, and allowed only a lone fourth inning run before giving way to reliever Jake Brentz with two outs in the sixth and the game tied 1-1.
Witt made a couple of good plays and proved just how good his arm is early in the contest but, batting second in Matheny’s first lineup of the season, waited much longer to make an impact at the plate. Cleveland ace Shane Bieber put him away on a fly to right in his first big league at-bat, then got him on a grounder to second in the third. Triston McKenzie retired the rookie on another grounder three innings later.
But with the game still tied in the bottom of the eighth, Witt made McKenzie pay. His double to left—his first major league hit—on the Cleveland reliever’s second pitch scored Michael A. Taylor with the lead run. And although it proved academic, Witt moved to third on a wild pitch and came home when Andrew Benintendi singled.
Scott Barlow, who pitched the eighth for the Royals, closed it in the ninth to secure the 3-1 win and his first victory of the season. His performance, which included three strikeouts, followed scoreless efforts by Brentz (one inning) and Josh Staumont (one-third of an inning).
What Kansas City fans will remember most about this cold, windy and occasionally wet early April afternoon, however, is the combined performance of Greinke and Witt, who fulfilled the promise of a special Opening Day.
The Royals are off Friday before resuming their four-game series with the Guardians Saturday at 3:10 p.m. CDT. Righthander Brad Keller is slated to face Cleveland righty Zach Plesac.