The first pitch of the season was four hours away, and Pete Rose, player, manager and living legend, was taking the cellophane wrapping off his new black bats. Ty Cobb was 94 hits away. "I did a banquet last night," Rose was saying, "the University of West Virginia basketball banquet in Morgantown. I talked about the Reds for 20 minutes, and by the time I got finished, I had those guys lined up to buy season tickets. Only problem is, it's a 300-mile drive."
Rose by himself would have been worth a 300-mile drive on Opening Day. He had two hits, including the game winner, and three RBIs as the Reds beat the Expos 4-1. From the very first play, a ground ball to Cincinnati first baseman Rose, the game belonged to Pete. In the fifth, he hit a two-run opposite-field double off Steve Rogers with two out to break a scoreless tie. For his 23 Opening Days, Rose, who turned 44 Sunday, has a batting average of .348.
Rose staged a clinic, too. In the fifth he purposely took a fat fastball down the middle as a lesson for his catcher, Dann Bilardello. Two innings before, Bilardello had chased a bad pitch and struck out for the second time in the game. Rose had a talk with him. "I told him, 'Three strikes you're out, like in the song. And I don't care if you strike out five times, you're still catching. You're going to see too many pitches to worry about one at bat. Relax and have fun.' " In his last two times up, Bilardello hit a hard ground ball and singled.
Afterward Rose said, "This was the kind of game I was looking for as a manager. We got three runs after two were out with nobody on and the pitcher batting. You don't see a lot of rallies like that. The game gave me a great feeling."
The day after Rose began his final countdown, Tom Seaver of the White Sox, still terrific after all these years, was in Milwaukee making history. Seaver, who is 40, was making his 15th Opening Day start, breaking the record he had shared with Walter Johnson. While Rose plays for fun, Seaver was all business.
"Pitching on any Opening Day is exciting, but the closer you get to game time, it's just another game," Seaver said as he played solitaire in the clubhouse. "You have to look at it in context. If I go out and get beat, big deal. It's a bag of worms. Stuff it."
Seaver stuffed the Brewers, shutting them out for six innings before tiring and leaving in the seventh. Chicago won 4-2 for Seaver's 289th win and his seventh on Opening Day against one loss. "To have done something no other pitcher has ever done is terrific," he said, "but the important part is getting your team started in the right direction."
He beat the Brewers with seven different pitches: four fastballs—cut, rising, sinking and sailing—a slider, a changeup and a blooping curve that has been timed at 39 mph. He also showed his age. After a tough sixth inning, Seaver retired the first two batters in the seventh, then gave up a single and a double and threw two wild pitches to score both runners. "I was hoping to get the last out, but I was gone," he said. "My legs were so tired. I don't throw three wild pitches in a year. Isn't that awful?"
Seaver is more worried about his place in the rotation than his place in history. "The record will mean more five years after I stop pitching," he said. "People want you to divide the present from the future, but I can't deal with the future when the present is all-consuming."
Mike Schmidt, the cleanup hitter for the Phillies, was kneeling in the on-deck circle. It was the top of the first in the Astrodome Saturday night. Von Hayes was hitting, Jeff Stone was on second, Juan Samuel was on first and not a soul was out. Schmidt must have been salivating. But, believe it or not, he led off the second inning even though Hayes walked. Here's what happened:
With the count 3 and 2 on Hayes, Astro rookie righty Ron Mathis picked Stone off second. Mathis then caught Samuel off first. Then he walked Hayes. And on the second pitch to Schmidt, Hayes was thrown out trying to steal.
"I've never seen anything like it, in high school, college, minor or big leagues," said veteran ump Bruce Froemming. "I know I'll never see it again."
Base running wasn't the Phillies' only problem. Last year they committed 161 errors, 18 more than any other over-.500 team, and they started '85 on the wrong foot. What can you say about a team that commits six errors on Opening Day, three by rookie shortstop Steve Jeltz, in front of the home folks?
At least rookie first baseman John Russell, who had two of the Opening Day muffs, was able to joke about it. Before the Phillies worked out the day after the opener, he asked manager John Felske, "Is it O.K. if I wear a chest protector and shin guards under my uniform?"
Bill Caudill, the Blue Jays' new stopper and a notorious prankster, directed his first bit of foolishness this spring at Ian Duff, the visiting clubhouse man who had been needling Caudill about his generous waistline. When the Jays visited Vancouver for their final exhibition game, Caudill and a few other Jays wrapped Duff in yards of tape and deposited him in the rightfield seats. He was rescued after 10 minutes by Brewer manager George Bamberger.... After Don Slaught, the Rangers' new catcher, was charged with two passed balls and watched knuckleballer Charlie Hough allow no hits but eight walks in the Rangers' opener, he asked plaintively, "Is it always like this?"
A number of familiar names reappeared in NL box scores last week. There was Vida Blue, pitching a third of an inning for the win in the Giants' 4-3 Opening Day victory over the Padres. Vida served time in a federal pen last year on a drug rap.... There was Bob Horner, back in the Braves' lineup after an off-season operation on his broken right wrist, a bone graft that had never been performed before on a baseball player. Horner may not be back at full strength yet, but he belted a homer Saturday in a 7-5 victory over San Diego.... There was Steve Howe, saving the Dodgers' second game of the season after missing last year because of a cocaine-related suspension.... And there was Dickie Thon, the Astros' All-Star shortstop, confounding the doctors and returning to the Astros' lineup after being beaned in the fifth game of the '84 season.
In the top of the seventh, Opening Day in chilly Baltimore, the Rangers' Buddy Bell was thrown out at third after Cliff Johnson singled. While Bell argued the call, Johnson, on first, ducked back into the warmth of the dugout. When the argument was over he trotted back...to second, where he was informed by the umps he was 90 feet over budget.
"It didn't hurt to try," he said.
"That guy," said O's manager Joe Altobelli, "is managerial material."
Steinbrenner even made the news section of Thursday's Boston Globe with the quote of the day: "I'm embarrassed."
"Didn't the President or the Pope have anything better to say?" one Yankee asked in dismay.
Berra wasn't rattled, however. After his team lost that "crucial" third game, 6-4, he was asked, "If today was crucial, what's tomorrow?" To which Yogi replied, "An off day."
Well, sort of. The Yankees played their Triple A Columbus team and were blitzed 14-5. Steinbrenner's reaction was predictable. "I don't want this happening in the town where I was born," he said before the Yankees headed to Cleveland, his birthplace. "Columbus is close enough. We can't afford any more losses."
His minions heeded the threat. With Ron Guidry pitching, the Yankees got off their '85 schneid Saturday with a 6-3 win.
"The thing that made Mickey so special," said Ranger manager Doug Rader after he cut the Quick, Mickey Rivers, "was that when we were so bad, he was the one thing that could take our minds off it. Comic relief isn't the right phrase, but he was a refreshing sight every day."