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On This Date in Sports March 31,1998: March Openers

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

For the second time, the MLB season begins in March as a full slate of games are scheduled to be played. In 1996, there was one Sunday Night game; this time, there were 11 games. This includes a pair of expansion teams playing their first official game. At Tropicana Field, the Tampa Bay Devils Rays fell to the Detroit Tigers 11-6, while the Colorado Rockies beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 9-2 at Bank One Ballpark.

Since the addition of the Divisional Series, baseball was looking for a way to fit in a 162-game schedule without having the postseason go beyond the end of October. This meant starting the season earlier. The first regular season game in March came in 1996, when ESPN played a special Sunday Night season opener, with the Seattle Mariners beating the Chicago White Sox 3-2 at the Kingdome. After playing one game in March in 1996, baseball had its full Opening Day on March 31st with 11 games played.

The Florida Marlins entered the season as the reigning World Champions, but ownership rained on the fans' parade, trading most of the team away in the off-season. As the Marlins raised their championship banner, they would start the season with an 11-6 win over the Chicago Cubs. Sammy Sosa was 2-for-5 without a home run in the game. While Sammy Sosa was held without a home run on Opening Day, the man he would battle later in the season Mark McGwire, started his season with a grand slam as the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-0 at Busch Stadium. Also hitting a home run on Opening Day was Ken Griffey Jr. as the Seattle Mariners started the season with a 10-9 loss to the Cleveland Indians at the Kingdome.

The traditional opener in Cincinnati disappointed the home team, as the Reds were rocked by the San Diego Padres 10-2. The Padres would represent the National League in the World Series. While the Reds carried on an old tradition, new traditions started in Tampa and Phoenix with their first-ever games with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Neither team would win their first game. The Devil Rays, with Wilson Alvarez getting the start lost to the Detroit Tigers 11-6, as Dave Martinez got the first hit and Wade Boggs hit the first home run in Tampa history. The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, lost to the Colorado Rockies 9-2, as Andy Benes got the start. For Arizona, the first hit was collected by Travis Lee, who also later hit the team’s first home run.

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With Interleague Play still a fresh idea, starting only a year earlier, MLB decided to have 16 teams in the National League and 14 in the American League. Not wanting to put both expansion teams in the same league, as they did in the past, the Milwaukee Brewers became the first team in over a century to switch leagues going from the AL to the NL. In their first game as a National League team, the Brewers lost to the Atlanta Braves 2-1 at Turner Field.

The best pitcher’s duel of Opening Day was at Shea Stadium, where Bobby Jones and Curt Schilling hung up nothing but zeroes. Schilling pitched eight innings for the Philadelphia Phillies, as Tim Spehr got two hits for the New York Mets over the first nine innings. Neither team would score until the 14th inning when Alberto Castillo singled home Brian McRae with two outs, and the bases loaded off Ricky Bottalico, making a 1-0 winner of the Mets and Turk Wendell. In the other game to go extra innings, the San Francisco Giants defeated Houston Astros 9-4 at the Astrodome.

Elsewhere, Cal Ripken's streak began another season. The Baltimore Orioles opened the season with a 4-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals, while the Chicago White Sox opened the season with a 9-2 win over the Texas Rangers in Arlington.

The eventual World Champion New York Yankees were one of eight teams not in action on the season’s first day. They would open the season a day later with a 3-1 loss to the Anaheim Angels, who were celebrating their newly renovated stadium.