Angels win odd opener, but Reds' loss significant
Ludwick's injury hangs heavy after 13-inning marathon
CINCINNATI -- The first lesson to be learned about Opening Day is that, contrary to whatever gut instincts it incites, it is rarely a reliable precursor to all that follows. In other words, we should read as much into this one result as we would that decidedly much-less-heralded outcome on, say, a Wednesday night in mid-June.
So, no, don't expect the Reds and/or Angels -- two of the game's more highly touted offenses -- to be as profoundly punchless at the plate as they were in the four-hour, 45-minute marathon Monday at Great American Ball Park, where Opening Day quickly morphed into opening night.
Don't expect Chris Iannetta, the Halos' lone run-producer in a 3-1, 13-inning victory over the Reds, to carry an Angels lineup featuring Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Try not to dwell too deeply on the 30 combined strikeouts. Or the Peter Bourjos triple that Shin-Soo Choo misplayed in his new position in center field. Or the trio of errors made by an Angels defense that should be among the game's sturdiest. Or the quadruple-switch Mike Scioscia maneuvered in the 11th.
If you expected the first-ever Interleague opener to be a bit on the strange side, well, this one delivered.
"The scenarios," Scioscia said, "were developing pitch by pitch."
But only one scenario from this bizarre entry into 2013 has long-term implications, and it's a scenario that was still being evaluated by the Reds after the final out was made.
It was cruel, on the heels of an abnormally long spring camp in which the Reds escaped Goodyear, Ariz., healthy and happy, to see their cleanup hitter, Ryan Ludwick, jam and dislocate his shoulder in just the third inning of the opener. Ludwick was successfully advancing from first to third on a wild pitch by Jered Weaver when his right hand got caught in the wet dirt near the third-base bag, holding his arm in place as his body slid forward.
Reds' trainers popped the shoulder back into its socket to give Ludwick instant relief, and an MRI on Tuesday will reveal the full extent of the damage.
"I was really starting to feel good at the plate the last five games or so of spring," Ludwick said. "One aggressive play, it happened. If I had to do it over again, I'd probably do the same thing. It's just a freak accident. I couldn't help it."
The timetable remains to be seen, but it's certainly the type of injury that can cost a guy at least a few weeks of action, and that would inherently change the offensive equation for the Reds.
"It's sort of disheartening," manager Dusty Baker said. "You hate to see a guy come off the field holding his arm like that. We've been doing so good the last couple of years without injuries. It's just a temporary setback."
A setback that doesn't leave the Reds with a whole lot of great options. Chris Heisey is the immediate fill-in, but his .265/.315/.401 slash line in 120 games in 2012 clearly doesn't compare to what Ludwick brought to the table in his big bounceback season.
And any talk of speedster Billy Hamilton, he of the record 155 steals in the Minors last year, is premature, considering Hamilton is still growing accustomed to center field and looked a bit overmatched in his Spring Training at-bats with the big club.
Ludwick's intrinsic value to Baker's lineup is that he separates left-handers Joey Votto and Jay Bruce in the middle. Take him out of the equation, as the injury did Monday, and you're left with scenarios like what transpired in the eighth, when Votto was intentionally walked by Garrett Richards with the score tied, two runners in scoring position and one out.
"I'm sure Dusty will find a way around it," Scioscia said. "They've got a deep lineup. But losing a guy who's not only supposed to hit cleanup but split up those two lefties, that's tough."
The Reds and Ludwick both have plenty of time to rebound from the ugliness of this opener. And the good news for both of these clubs was that Tuesday's off-day gives the bullpens a chance to recover. There is never a good time for a 13-inning game, but the season-opening series -- when starters are often limited to the 90-100 pitch range -- is an especially difficult one. The off-day here is the saving grace.
"We had to use a lot of pitching earlier than we would have wanted," Scioscia said.
For the Angels, it was worth it. A team supposedly built around an ample offense demonstrated -- for one day, at least -- that its rebuilt bullpen has the depth of options to hang tough in the late innings. The Cincinnati 'pen hung tough, too, right up until J.J. Hoover, who had pitched around Bourjos' one-out triple an inning earlier, let a one-out walk to Hamilton in the 13th pave the way to defeat. Iannetta had a terrific at-bat with the bases loaded and two out, working his way back from a 1-2 count to lacing the game-winning single to left. He was the unlikely hero in an unconventional opener.
"Not what you script," Iannetta said, "for the first day out."
No, nothing here went by the book, and that's what we love about baseball and Opening Day, in particular. On Wednesday, they'll tear up this particular script and start over.
Except the Reds won't have Ludwick in the lineup. And that will be the lone result of this strange opener to have lasting implications.