The Meaning of an Opening Day Loss

The Red Sox got out to a 4-0 lead on Opening Day, but their bullpen, seized by the desire to induce the greatest possible pain in the New England populace, gave up five runs to lose. No, I didn’t misread the box score, it was five runs they gave up and it happened in the ninth inning. Also it was Alan Embree and Chad Fox who did the damage. As you’ve likely guessed, I’m not talking about yesterday’s loss, but about the 2004 Red Sox’ opening day loss to these same Rays. Those Red Sox, you may remember them, had a 4-1 lead before their middle relief handed the game to Tampa.

Losing is not fun, and losing on Opening Day is probably less fun than normal everyday losing, the kind the baseball season gradually inoculates you against. But a loss on that first day is extra tough because you have no context. You wait months for real baseball to come, it finally arrives, the Red Sox look to be cruising to a win, everything is as it should be, and then some relief pitcher forgets where the strike zone is and/or takes an actual poop directly on the pitching rubber, and suddenly everything we’ve waited all winter for is ruined and bad.

That’s what it feels like to lose on Opening Day. But what does it actually mean to lose on Opening Day? That’s probably a more relevant question, and I’m sure you are currently aiming that bowling ball at that new flat-screen TV in a quest for relevance and not in any way out of unbridled fury at mediocre relief pitching. So let’s try, desperately try, to shoot some logic up into this piece before you personally have to goose the local electronics store’s monthly earnings. As mentioned above, the 2004 Red Sox also lost on Opening Day, and in as gut-tearing a manner as a team can, too. They went on to do pretty well when things came down to it, so you have to figure that gut tear must have healed sometime before they came back from down three games in the ALCS to absolutely bury the Yankees. The 2007 Red Sox lost on Opening Day as well, and they didn’t just lose, they got smoked. Curt Schilling gave up five runs to the Kansas City Royals (this was before the Royals were good, which is a nice way of saying those Royals were bad), and the Red Sox offense never got out of Spring Training mode. All in all, they lost 7-1, about as ignoble a beginning to a World Series winning campaign as one can conjure up. Completing the trifecta, the 2013 Red Sox won on Opening Day. Jon Lester out-dueled C.C. Sabathia and the Sox beat the Yankees in New York, 8-2.

So, as it turns out, you can win the World Series whether you win or lose on Opening Day. But as that’s only three teams, it hardly constitutes immutable proof. So I went back through the 2000 season and looked at how every eventual World Series winning team since then did on Opening Day. The data says eventual World Series winning teams since and including the 2000 season have a 10-8 record on opening day. That’s a .555 winning percentage which works out to a 90 win pace. That’s not all that great! 90 wins is a fine season but not often a World Series winning one. But, if you limit the sample further, to the 2002 season and going forward — which you wouldn’t do unless you had a point to make — you would find that the eventual World Series winners are 8-8 on opening day. 8-8! That sure makes a point!

What does all of this tell us? Not a darn thing, probably. The Red Sox, one of the best teams in baseball over the past two decades, are about as likely to win as they are to lose on any given day of the season. Good teams win and good teams lose is the point, and almost in equal amounts, which is why there are 162 games in a baseball season and not for any other reasons, nope, not at all.

So what does it mean to win on Opening Day? It means that for a day, you get to enjoy perfection. Baseball is back, spring is here, summer is soon to follow, and the baseball season lies ahead in all it’s dignified, spectacular, and orderly beauty. What does it mean to lose on Opening Day? It’s pretty much the same, but with a whole lot more swear words and, if the Red Sox bullpen has anything to say about it, a couple fewer working televisions.

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If you’ll permit me an indulgent paragraph, I’m leaving Baseball Prospectus after more than six years and I need to say thank you. It’s been a wild blast, one I never thought I’d get to do while reading Joe Sheehan, Steven Goldman, Nate Silver, and Christina Kahrl blow my mind on a daily basis while back in school. I’ve written more articles than I can count — 35 pages worth if you author search me. My first official piece as a BP author was about what happens when you type “poop” into the Baseball Reference search engine. After that, I wrote a weekly column, years and years worth of the Hit List (eternal thanks to the great Jay Jaffe), I’ve covered the playoffs, done Transaction Analyses, and I’ve been on board here at BP Boston since its inception. All of it has been a tremendous honor of which I’m entirely unworthy, and so I owe undying thanks to Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller for giving me the opportunity to write at the feet of those and so many other giants. Thanks also go to Ben Carsley and Brett Cowett for having me here at BP Boston. A writer is nothing if there is nobody to read their work, and so I’d be grandly remiss if I didn’t thank you, the reader. Whether you’ve been reading me for years, or whether this is my first piece of yours, thank you.

Photo by Kim Klement — USA TODAY Sports

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3 comments on “The Meaning of an Opening Day Loss”


Thanks for the enjoyable writing Matthew! I’ve been following on BP Boston for awhile now.

On that note, I hate to ruin the narrative but the Embree/Fox blow up appears to have been in 2003, a year which ended in the saddest of fashions. :/

Horace Fury

Sad to see you go, Matthew. I thank you for your very enjoyable articles, and I hope you blah blah all the best.

Larry Howser

sorry to break it to you, Matthew, but (as Dana already identified) the Sox bullpen imploded on opening day 2003! The Sox DID lose on opening day 2004, when Pedro looked cooked and the Sox lost to the O’s – I believe the final score was 7-2 – the Sox left a ton of runners on base that day. But the truth remains – a loss on opening day doesn’t have much predictive value for the remainder of the season.

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