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Ranking the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Opening Day Wins

Yesterday’s win was the 11th Opening Day victory in franchise history. Where does it stand?

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Almost all of Arizona’s Opening Day wins have been close: of the 11 wins, only a couple have been by a margin of more than two runs, with none being by more than four. To figure out an objective measure of which was the most exciting, I used “Leverage Index” (LI), a measure of how important a particular situation is in a baseball game - it depends on the inning, score, outs, and number of players on base. The average LI for the D-backs is a metric of overall “excitement” from our fan point of view: 1.000 is “average”, so anything above that equals tension.

#11. April 5, 2010: D-backs 6, Padres 3 (LI 0.446)

We start with the most boring Opening Day win ever. Arizona put up crooked numbers in the first, second and fourth innings, to open a six-run lead and get their Win Probability up to 96% after Stephen Drew’s inside-the-park home-run made it 6-0 in the bottom of the fourth. San Diego scored two in the ninth to make it respectable.

#10. April 4, 2000: D-backs 6, Phillies 4 (LI 0.519)

Arizona scored three in the second and were 6-1 up after six, then let Philadelphia back into it. We were still four up when Randy Johnson left after 8.2 innings - he would have had a complete game, save for a Tony Womack error. It took three relief pitchers to get the final out, with the tying run on base, and notch our first Opening Day win.

#9. March 31, 2008: D-backs 4, Reds 2 (LI 0.621)

Arizona managed just five hits and two walks, but made the most of them. Meanwhile Brandon Webb and three relievers held Cincinnati to three hits, and just one at-bat with anyone in scoring position. This kept the game time down to a crisp 2:36, the D-backs bullpen tossing three hitless innings of relief.

#8. April 1, 2002: D-backs 2, Padres 0 (LI 0.676)

You won’t see this again. Oh, there have been Opening Day complete-game shutouts since (both by Dodgers: Nomo vs. us in 2003, and Kershaw in 2013), but Johnson threw 130 pitches as he six-hit San Diego. The only pitcher with more than 117 on Opening Day since was Livan Hernandez, who reached 122 pitches, the following day.

#7. April 1, 2013: D-backs 6, Cardinals 2 (LI 0.703)

Ian Kennedy beat Adam Wainwright, despite St. Louis taking the lead in the first. A.J. Pollock cracked a two-run go-ahead double in the fourth, and the Cardinals didn’t come within two runs the rest of the way. Arizona tied an Opening Day record with 15 hits, including three for Pollock and four off the bat of Gerardo Parra.

#6. April 5, 2012: D-backs 5, Giants 4 (LI 0.737)

Despite the closeness of the final score, the Giants only had a Win Probability in their favor for one PA - after Melky Cabrera’s one-out double in the top of the first. Arizona scored three times, on home-runs by Chris Young and Paul Goldschmidt, in the bottom half, though SF got the tying run in scoring position with two outs in the ninth.

#5. April 6, 2009: D-backs 9, Rockies 8 (LI 0.877)

A slugfest early, the D-backs blowing leads of 2-0, 6-4 and 7-6 by the middle of the fifth inning. However, things calmed down thereafter, with single runs traded in the seventh the only scoring from then on. Arizona relievers retired the last nine Colorado hitters who came to the plate, keeping this from becoming too much of a nail-biter.

#4. April 3, 2001: D-backs 3, Dodgers 2 (LI 1.219)

The D-backs out-hit the Dodgers 12-5, but it took a two-run homer in the seventh inning, off the bat of Luis Gonzalez, to give the D-backs the lead they’d hold until the end. Johnson threw seven strong innings to get the W, Byung-Hyun Kim getting the hold (with a typical Kim inning: K, BB, K, BB, K) and Matt Mantei the save.

#3. April 2, 2007: D-backs 8, Rockies 6 (LI 1.477)

This was a very good back-and-forth contest, each team blowing two leads. Arizona was ahead 1-0 and 5-2; Colorado were 2-1 and 6-5 up. But a two-run single in the eighth inning by Eric Byrnes gave the Diamondbacks the lead for good; he and Orlando Hudson each had three hits and drove in a pair of runs for Arizona.

#2. April 1, 2011: D-backs 7, Rockies 6 (LI 1.792)

The only extra-inning victory for Arizona on Opening Day, Colorado had a 3-1 lead after four innings. Arizona then took a 6-4 lead by the middle of the sixth, only for it to be tied up after seven. Still level after 10 innings, Willie Bloomquist scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch in the top of the 11th, before J.J. Putz notched a 1-2-3 save.

#1. April 2, 2017: D-backs 6, Giants 5 (LI 1.880)

Never mind Opening Days, there was only one win since July 2015 which rivaled this one: the July 16 game last year, where Jake Lamb tied it up with two outs in the ninth, then scored the winning run in the 12th. That had an LI of 1.886. In case you’re wondering, the franchise record is the thriller against LA in 2006, We came back from 6-3 down to force extras, traded runs in the 11th, then walked it off in the bottom of a 15th on an Orlando Hudson homer. That one had a monstrous average LI of 2.481.

For the record, here are the biggest single at-bats, by Leverage Index, in yesterday’s extraordinary game:

  • #5: 7th inning, two outs: Chris Iannetta grounded out to first. LI = 3.58
  • #4: 9th inning, no outs: Brandon Drury struck out swinging. LI = 3.59
  • #3: 8th inning, no outs: Paul Goldschmidt singled to left (Grounder). A.J. Pollock scored. LI = 4.41
  • #2: 9th inning, two outs: Chris Owings singled to right (Fliner (Liner)). Daniel Descalso scored. LI = 4.67
  • #1: 9th inning, two outs: Daniel Descalso singled to center (Fliner (Liner)). Jeremy Hazelbaker scored. LI = 5.16