Happ, Springer open MLB season with homers in triumphs


Miami (AFP)

Chicago Cubs leadoff hitter Ian Happ smashed the opening pitch of the 2018 Major League Baseball season for a home run Thursday as the Cubs beat the Miami Marlins 8-4.

Marlins pitcher Jose Urena endured a nightmare start in the first game of the new campaign, which will conclude with the World Series in October.

Happ, playing his first major league opening day after joining the Cubs in May last year, blasted the opening offering from 26-year-old Dominican right-hander Urena into the right-field stands.

It was not the first time a season's first pitch was swatted for a homer. Boston's Dwight Evans homered on the first pitch of the 1986 season at Detroit off Tigers star pitcher Jack Morris.

Happ wasn't the only leadoff hitter to homer as Houston's George Springer smacked the third pitch from Texas starter Cole Hamels over the rightfield fence to launch the new season for the World Series champion Astros.

"It felt great to hop on the first one and get us on the board," said Springer. "It's a great way to start the season."

Springer, last year's World Series Most Valuable Player, became the first season leadoff homer hitter for a defending World Series champion. He's also the only player to hit a leadoff homer on opening day in consecutive years, having also homered in last year's opener against Seattle.

Jake Marisnick also homered for the Astros in their 4-1 victory.

Happ, 23, became the youngest Cub to hit an opening-day homer since 1955. He smacked 24 homers and batted in 68 runs last year as a rookie for the Cubs.

Urena's horror show only began with the homer, however, as his first opening-day start saw the Marlins hurler surrender three runs on 57 pitches in the first inning. All nine Chicago batters came to the plate.

Happ became the first player to homer off the first pitch his team faced in a season since Japan's Kazuo Matsui in 2004 for the New York Mets.

- School shooting tribute -

Both teams paid tribute to the 17 people killed at a mass shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by wearing matches with the initials "MSD" and 17 stars.

Cubs first baseman Rizzo, who as a teen attended Stoneman Douglas, will host the school's baseball team at Friday's Marlins-Cubs game, when four families of victims or survivors are scheduled to make a ceremonial first pitch.

The Cubs showed support for the gun-control and voter registration pushes being made by student survivors, wearing special T-shirts before the game made by Cubs manager Joe Maddon's charity foundation.

"The kids are standing up for what they believe in," said Rizzo, who also homered in the game.

- Ohtani singles to open -

Japan's Shohei Ohtani, expected to be the first regular pitcher-batter in the major leagues since Babe Ruth's heyday a century ago, singled off the first major league pitch he saw for the Los Angeles Angels at Oakland, batting eighth in the lineup as a designated hitter in his debut after coming over from the Nippon Ham Fighters. The 23-year-old is scheduled to start on the mound Sunday against the A's.

Ohtani finished 1-for-5 as the Angels fell 6-5 in 11 innings, but said it was a day to remember.

"That (first) at-bat, I'm probably never going to forget the rest of my life," added Ohtani who is scheduled to start on the mound on Sunday for the Angels.

Dominican 38-year-old slugger Albert Pujols hit his 615th homer, seventh on the all-time list, for the Angels in the sixth inning.

An emotional pre-game ceremony before the New York Yankees opened at Toronto paid tribute to former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay, who was killed in a plane crash last November.

Halladay's sons walked to the mound and placed the ball there ahead of a moment of silence. The Blue Jays retired Halladay's number 32 jersey.

The Yankees, snapped a club-record six-opener losing streak with a 6-1 win over Toronto as Giancarlo Stanton homered twice in his Yankees debut.