Opening Day rates as the first of 162 games in the long major-league season, but it’s not an ordinary game no matter how often players say it is.
Count right-hander Colby Lewis as one of those who downplays the season opener, and he did nothing but tone down the rhetoric after he learned he would be starting Friday against Chicago.
Perhaps his hype control is why he has developed into the best big-game pitcher in Texas Rangers history. He showed it again as he struck out nine and allowed two runs in six innings to lead the Rangers to a 3-2 opening victory over the White Sox.
Ian Kinsler doubled, homered and scored twice, and Michael Young delivered the game-winning RBI in the seventh inning. Alexi Ogando and Mike Adams worked scoreless innings ahead of closer Joe Nathan, who nailed down his first save for his new team in front of a Rangers Ballpark crowd of 49,085.
“It was a well-played game,” said Young, who played in his 11th Opening Day game. “Obviously, we fed off of 50,000 strong in our crowd.
They’re starting to spoil us with that kind of atmosphere and electricity.”
Lewis did everything the Rangers have come to expect, logging innings and keeping his team in the hunt, and everything they risk losing after this season.
He’s a free agent after the year. While the extension talk this off-season centered on Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler and Mike Napoli, Lewis was hardly mentioned.
Friday was just one game, as Lewis often says, but he has a track record the Rangers might want to keep around beyond this season.
“That would be great,” said Lewis, who is pitching for the bargain price of $3.25 million this year. “If they don’t want me, they don’t want me. It would be awesome if it worked out.”
Lewis logged 200 innings in his first two seasons after returning from Japan and won a career-high 14 games in 2011. He’s also 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA in eight starts on the big stage of the postseason.
He’s now 1-0 on Opening Day in the majors. He avoided trouble until the sixth, when Chicago scored both its runs to wipe out a 2-0 deficit. Adam Dunn hit a 431-foot blast into the home-run porch to start the inning, and Alex Rios scored from first on a single into the left-field gap by Alexei Ramirez.
Hamilton, though, started the Rangers’ half with a single off John Danks, went to second as third baseman Brent Morel bobbled an Adrian Beltre grounder, and scored as Young delivered a single to left.
The three-headed relief beast of Ogando, Adams and Nathan made the one-run lead stand as the Rangers won their season opener for a fourth straight year.
Lewis, though, did what the Rangers wanted him to do in a big-game atmosphere.
“It was exactly what I thought it was going to be,” said Lewis, who matched Nolan Ryan’s club mark for strikeouts on Opening Day.
“You start with the goose bumps and the jitters just like it was any other time in the postseason. Once you throw that first strike, it’s over, it’s back to work.
“It’s how big you want to make the situation. Regardless of what the situation is, you’ve got to go out there and compete and keep your team in the game.”
The Rangers staked Lewis to an early lead as Kinsler led off with a double, went to second on a bunt by Elvis Andrus and scored on a sacrifice fly by Hamilton.
Kinsler swatted a solo homer in the third, depositing a hanging breaking ball into the first row of the left-field seats. Then, Lewis did what he seemingly always does.
“He proved himself again as being a big-game pitcher,” Kinsler said. “We have a lot of talent in our rotation. To put him as the No. 1 starter tells you what kind of composure he has and what kind of pitcher he is.”
For openers, and on the big stage yet again, Lewis looked like the kind of pitcher the Rangers should want to have around beyond this year.