DENVER — C.J. Cron is Who was on first. What’s his name, Chris Owings, was on second. I Don’t Know who was on third.
It wasn’t Nolan Arenado.
Josh Fuentes became the Rockies’ first Opening Day third baseman not named Arenado since 2013. Unknown to the casual Rockies fan, Fuentes quickly made people take notice by starting two double plays from his third base position in the first two innings, and also delivered a go-ahead RBI single in the third. The Rockies defeated Clayton Kershaw and the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers, 8-5, on a spectacular Opening Day before a sellout crowd of 20,570 at Coors Field on a Thursday afternoon that creeped shadows into evening.
Rockies closer Daniel Bard loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, but earned the save after striking out pinch-hitter Matt Beauty on three pitches and retired Mookie Betts on a soft line out to second, where Owings snagged it to finish off his big day. The game took 3 hours and 46 minutes to complete.
Yes, Coors Field was back.
"That was a Coors Field grinder for sure,'' said Rockies manager Bud Black. "But it was a good win."
It was the first game played at Coors Field with fans in the seats since the final game of 2019, as the virus pandemic closed the gates for the shortened, 60-game season of 2020. Virus concerns are still restricting the ballpark to 40 percent capacity, but the natural applause and groans from a live audience beats artificial, piped-in noise any day.
"Just talking to teammates, everybody was like, 'Man, this is it,''' said Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, who had two hits and a couple nice defensive plays. "This feels like the big leagues with great fans, beautiful weather. You just can't beat it. There's nothing like it and getting the win today was special, too.''
For Fuentes, a 28-year-old, six-year minor-leaguer getting his first significant big-league chance, it was a nice start.
"I thought he did fine,'' Black said. "Made a great play in the first inning on the double play by (Justin) Turner. Overall, I thought he looked good.
"We'll move him around a little bit (defensively). We'll see what happens going forward. But we have all the confidence in the world in Josh at third."
Not that anyone in Colorado will soon forget Arenado, or forgive team management for letting him go. Arguably the best third baseman in major-league history, much less the Rockies, Arenado became disenchanted with the team’s losing ways the past two seasons and asked for an immediate trade rather than wait to opt out of his contract after this season.
In a deal that angered the fan base and many prominent local media members, the Rockies dealt Arenado – and $50 million of the $199 million left on his contract -- to the Cardinals two months ago in exchange for five players.
Arenado had two hits and an RBI in his Cardinals' debut as St. Louis whipped the Reds, 11-6, in Cincinnati, where it was 37 degrees and drizzly.
The weather was much better in Denver. In fact, it couldn’t have been better: 70 degrees at the first pitch, up to 72 by the last pitch. There was no wind, no clouds and a bright sunshine that beamed its way through a hazy blue sky.
The game’s best pitcher at Coors Field through 4 innings was the Dodgers’ Kershaw, yet at that point he was trailing, 2-1. Rockies starter German Marquez was pulled after four innings because he had given up six hits and six walks. Yet he was up 2-1.
"German was not sharp with his fastball,'' said Black.
The difference was the Dodgers’ inability to hit in the clutch, an unexpected malady for a team coming off their World Series championship. The Dodgers stranded two runners in each of the first four innings, and left 14 on base for the game.
"I battled,'' Marquez said.
The Dodgers couldn’t even score on a home run. In one of those plays that had longtime baseball followers saying, “I’ve never seen that before,” Dodgers’ left-handed slugger Cody Bellinger drilled a deep, opposite-field fly to the wall that Rockies’ left fielder Rameil Tapia appeared to catch. But after Tapia’s glove hit the top of the fence, the ball popped out and leaked over.
Home run. Only Justin Turner, the runner on first, had already started his retreat. Turner was around second, heading for third when he thought Tapia had it. Turner retouched second and was scrambling back toward first, passing Bellinger on the way. Bellinger was around first, heading to second, pointing to the ball that wound up over the fence.
But instead of his first homer of 2021, Bellinger was awarded an RBI single as Turner was allowed to score. Bellinger was also ruled out for passing the baserunner, Turner. Bizarre.
"That was something I had never seen before,'' Story said. (Told ya.) "I knew somebody had to be out."
"You don't see that too often, but,'' Black said. "it happened today."
It was 2-2 entering the bottom of the fifth when the Rockies scored twice off Kershaw, who entered 2021 as the best Opening Day pitcher in the majors since 1913. Kershaw brought in a 1.05 ERA on Opening Day but this was the first time he started a season at Coors Field. Moreover, the 33-year-old veteran struggled in spring training.
Predictably, Kershaw is the stingiest Opening Day pitcher no more. He allowed two more runs before he could get out of the sixth inning, as his Opening Day ERA soared to 1.73, behind Feller’s 1.21 ERA and Jim Palmer’s 1.40.
Owings was 3 for 3 with three runs scored and two stolen bases. Cron had two hits with two runs scored. Chi Chi Gonzalez allowed three runs in two middle innings of relief but got the win.
Antonio Senzatella (5-3, 3.44 ERA in 2020) starts Game 2 Friday night against the Dodgers’ Trevor Bauer (5-4, 1.73 ERA) who won the NL Cy Young Award last year for Cincinnati thanks to 100 strikeouts and two shutouts in 11 starts (73 innings).