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Does winning Opening Day matter?

Putting the Yankees’ shutout of the Giants in historical context.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees are 1-0!

Their all-around solid 5-0 shoutout of the San Francisco Giants to open the 2023 season moves them to 68-52 all-time in their first game of the season, dating back to a 3-1 loss at the hands of the Washington Senators on April 22, 1903. The answer to the question in the title, of course, is that it does not, in any way that winning any of the subsequent 161 games matters. The Yankees have far more than 68 winning seasons since 1903; for every one of those losses that turned into a disappointment, another turned into a typical winner.

After all, the best team in that long history — 1998’s 114-win behemoth — started their road to a World Series with a loss, when Andy Pettitte was victimized for nine hits and four runs over six innings against an excellent Remember Some Guys lineup from the Anaheim Angels:

Baseball Reference

Of course, that team famously lost four of five to start things off before finishing 113-44. Still, in terms of winning the World Series, there might be something to be said for taking home a dub on Opening Day: 18 of the 27 title seasons began with a W. Granted, it wasn’t necessary for the last one — CC Sabathia got lit up for six runs in his first start as a Yankee in Camden Yards to start the 2009 campaign. There are jokes to be made about the Baltimore lineup that dinged up the future Hall-of-Famer, but I’m not going to make them here:

Baseball Reference

What about yesterday’s pitching performance? Any meaning to be gleaned from Gerrit Cole’s 11 strikeouts, or the combined shutout he engineered in combination with Wandy Peralta, Jonathan Loáisiga, and Ron Marinaccio? Maybe! Thursday was the 17th time in these 120-odd years that the Yankees have held their opponents scoreless on Opening Day. The bad news is that they subsequently missed the playoffs in seven of those 16 previous season. The good news is that only two of those seasons are post-expansion, and something tells me Cole will have better fortunes than Rick Rhoden, who followed up a season-opening shutout of the Twins in 1988 by getting pummeled for 17 runs (13 earned) over 7.1 innings his next two times out.

The other good news? Of the nine other Opening Day shutouts that did result in a playoff run, seven of them finished with a trophy coming home, including 1939, 1941, 1950, 1951, 1956, 1958, and 1977. It’s the first game-one shutout since that aforementioned Rhoden gem, and was preceded by a 10-inning masterpiece the year prior from Dennis Rasmussen and Dave Righetti. It’s also the second time Yankees fans of a certain age have seen a 5-0 shutout to open a campaign, following that 1951 championship season that included this lineup:

Baseball Reference

Don’t get any ideas, though: there’s really no correlation at all between team quality and Opening Day record. Funnily enough, the Yankees actually average more wins per year (88.75) when they lose game number one than when they win (88.05). One of the team’s least-fearsome lineups of the 1950s was likely the 1955 group whose 19-1 drubbing of a Washington Senators team that seems to have been what obnoxious modern critics often refer to as “a bunch of plumbers” kicked off a campaign that ultimately finished with a famous World Series loss to the soon-to-be Los Angeles Dodgers.

Baseball Reference

At the very least, it’s a good thing they didn’t get their asses handed to them. It hasn’t portended anything good when that’s happened. Arguably their worst Opening Day loss belongs to a 1919 squad that suffered a 10-0 shellacking at the hands of the Red Sox and went on to finish a measly third place in the American League. For those looking for some history a little more recent, their eminently mediocre 1973 team also fell by 10 runs to the Red Sox, though that time they managed to at least put up five runs of their own.

Baseball Reference

So, are there any takeaways here? Not really! The Yankees are 1-0, and that’s unequivocally better than being 0-1. It doesn’t speak anything to their long-term chances, but we can go to bed and rest easy knowing that history is a little more on their side than they might have been otherwise.