When it comes to Opening Day, few teams can match the St. Louis Cardinals.
From the Clydesdales to the Hall of Fame parade to the return of Albert Pujols, there’ll be a lot to take in during the 2022 season opener.
Possible future Hall-of-Famer Pujols’ coming back to St Louis is probably the news that excites fans the most. He will be joining Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, two teammates from the Cardinals’ World Series wins in 2006 and 2011. And not that legal Missouri sports betting is on the horizon, this season could be a whole new experience for fans.
For many, this will be a beautiful reunion. Although some might consider it a bittersweet moment, since it may be the final season for these three legends as St. Louis Cardinals.
Whether you’re a baseball fan or not, it’s hard not to get swept up in the fever of Opening Day in Cardinal Nation. Unlike anywhere else in the country, the long-awaited start of the baseball season, heralded by the opening day game, is deemed as the premier sporting event.
To commemorate the occasion, Missourians across the state are all clad in Cardinal Red that day. And anyone in possession of an opening ticket has lady luck smiling at them.
But even without a ticket to Busch Stadium, downtown St. Louis and the surrounding bars and restaurants will certainly keep the entertainment going for the first normal Opening Day since the pandemic.
This year’s Opening Day fixture sees the Cardinals take on the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Enduring Opening Day happenings
The Cardinals are the oldest major league team west of the Mississippi River and one of baseball’s most consistently successful franchises.
Their supporters pride themselves on being the best fans in baseball, which they are if stadium decibel levels on Opening Day are anything to go by.
Today we’ll take a trip down memory lane and review five lynchpin moments from the Cardinals’ opening day games.
No. 1: McGwire’s grand slam, 1998
It was a grand opening day for the Cardinals Mark McGwire, who in the fifth inning hit the first home run in his historic record-breaking 70 home-run season. The grand slam swing secured the Cardinals the lead and set them up for a 6-0 victory against the Dodgers.
That hit triggered a season of entertaining competition, as McGwire and Chicago’s Sammy Sosa raced to beat Roger Maris’ single-season home-run record.
The chase that resulted in both players breaking Maris’ long-standing record of 61 home runs, saw McGwire take the title with 70.
McGwire’s grand slam marks his 31st homer of the 1998 season.
No. 2: Gibson’s pitches slay the Giants, 1967
Bob Gibson may well have been one of the most intimidating pitchers in baseball history. He was known to strike fear into the hearts of his opponents each time he took to the mound.
Dominating the 1967 season opener, Gibson pitched 9 innings, walked none, and struck out 13 leading to a 6-0 victory against the Giants.
Gibson successfully dispatched the first five batters before retiring Tom Heller:
- Ken Henderson
- Jesus Alou
- Willie Mays
- Willie McCovey
- Jim Ray Hart
Together with Hall-of-Famer Juan Marichal, they shut down and kept scoreless Mays and McCovey a combined four times. And turned Busch stadium into a deafness-inducing zone.
In that 6-0 triumph, Gibson conceded only five hits and deftly maneuvered an RBI in the seventh inning. Outfielder Lou Brock steered the teams’ offense with a three-run homer that April evening, laying the groundwork for the 1967 World Series run.
No. 3: Cardinals score 4 home runs to beat Reds, 2010
In what was to be his second swing of the season, Albert Pujols knocked one over the wall. A short while later, Reds fans in Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park had to watch him do it again.
The League’s MVP for the previous two seasons proved his mettle by going 4 for 5 that opening day. And he had two of the Cardinal’s team record four homers and 10 total bases. The Cardinals prevailed over the Reds with an 11-6 win on one of the warmest opening days.
Yadier Molina wasn’t going to let Pujols have all the fun. He completed the Cardinal’s first home opener with a grand slam in the ninth.
Only two other St. Louis players hold the privilege of having hit slams in season openers: Scott Rolen and Mark McGwire. The “Big Mac” McGwire returned to baseball as the Cardinal’s batter instructor that season.
No. 4: Ozzie’s Opening Day trademark backflip, 1995
Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith was notorious for his acrobatics on opening day and other special events. On Apr. 26, 1995, the infielder, better known as the “Wizard of Oz,” started in 13 of his 14 seasons with the Cardinals, third only to Molina and Brock in the franchise’s history.
Smith’s performance during that opener remains etched in baseball memory for the simple fact that he became the oldest shortstop in NL history at the age of 40.
In a sport where the players don’t exactly ooze athleticism, Smith’s acrobatic displays surely blew many young fans’ mind and might have been the starting point of a long and cherished fandom.
No. 5: Cardinals snuff out Cubs late rally, 2017
Everyone knows there’s little love lost between the Cardinals and the Cubs.
One of the factors that make this rivalry so compelling is that the Cardinals have 11 titles under their belt, while the Cubs only recently ended their 108-year drought by defeating the Cleveland Guardians (Indians) in 2016.
During a wild primetime opener, Randal Grichuck struck a two-run homer in the eighth inning and a game-ending run-scoring single in the ninth, putting the Cardinals ahead 4-3.
It was Carlos Martinez’s hit-pinch double off Mike Montogomery that set off the winning rally. He led the way with 7 ⅓ scoreless innings and 10 strikeouts in his first opening day nod.
Things looked a little shaky though when Seunghwan Oh allowed a three-run homer from Willson Contreras in the top of the ninth. But that’s when the 25-year-old Grichuck stepped up to the plate.
With the bases loaded, he produced one of the more memorable opening day moments in recent Cardinals history.