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SWB intent on ending Opening Day skid04/02/2008 10:00 AM ET
By Benjamin Hill
On April 8, 1999, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons kicked off their season with a 7-0 win over the Rochester Red Wings. Current San Diego Padres starter Randy Wolf scattered three hits over seven shutout innings, while noted sluggers Torey Lovullo, Billy McMillon and Marc Ronan all went yard.
In short, it was an Opening Day to remember -- especially because the club hasn't prevailed in one since.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's current streak of eight Opening Day losses is the longest in all of Minor League Baseball, a dubious season-starting skid that stretches all the way back to the 20th century. True, this streak is more of a fluke than anything else, especially when one considers the fact that overall Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is a remarkable 120 games over .500 during this time period. Still, a historic streak is a historic streak.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's streak has survived an affiliation switch (from the Phillies to the Yankees), an ownership change and extensive stadium renovations. When it began (on April 6, 2000, to be exact), Bill Clinton was still in the White House, Erin Brockovich was the No. 1 movie in America and Julio Franco was a mere 41 years old.
Let's now take a moment to look back on Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's nearly decade-long run of Opening Day infamy. Assisting us in this important endeavor is Mike Cummings, who recently took a job in the marketing department after spending 18 seasons as the team's public relations director.
April 6, 2000 -- Rochester Red Wings 6, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons 3
The Red Wings scored three runs in the top of the first and never looked back, eventually doubling up the Red Barons, 6-3. Rochester's offense was largely generated by the top of the order, as the first five batters combined to go 11-for-22 with six runs scored and four RBIs. Reigning National League MVP Jimmy Rollins went 1-for-3 with a walk for the Red Barons, while current Phillies left fielder Pat Burrell didn't collect a hit over four at-bats.
Cummings: "That was the only year that Burrell started a season with us, and much of the excitement during that game was related to him. He was just a huge prospect at the time. Rollins was a prospect too, but there wasn't nearly as much interest."
April 5, 2001 -- Ottawa Lynx 4, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons 3
The Lynx scored all their runs over the game's first three innings and held on for a 4-3 win. Red Barons starter Evan Thomas didn't have his best stuff, allowing four runs -- one earned -- on eight hits over five innings. But the bullpen was nearly unhittable as the illustrious quartet of Rigo Beltran, Tom Jacquez, Doug Nickle and Pete Zamora combined to close out the game with four shutout frames. The damage had already been done however, and the Opening Day losing streak "ballooned" to two in a row.
Cummings: "It's funny that Thomas got the loss, because he's the all-time wins leader in franchise history. He went 26-25 over three seasons, but never made it to the Phillies."
April 4, 2002 -- Ottawa Lynx 1, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons 0
Brett Myers made the Opening Day start for the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday. Six years previous, Myers suffered an exceedingly tough Opening Day loss at the hands of the Lynx. The then-21-year-old pitched an eight-inning complete game, allowing an unearned run on three hits. An eighth-inning error by current Phillies second baseman Chase Utley led to Ottawa's lone run. In this age of three-hour ballgames, perhaps the contest's most noteworthy aspect was how quickly it was over. The time of game was a crisp one hour and 38 minutes.
Cummings: "That game was in Ottawa, and it was really, really cold. Everybody was swinging at the first pitch, trying to get something happening. It's still the shortest game ever played in franchise history."
April 3, 2003 -- Ottawa Lynx 5, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons 4
For the third straight season, the Red Barons opened their season with a one-run loss to the Lynx. This time, Jack Cust's solo home run off of reliever Amaury Telemaco proved to be the difference in the game. Telemaco was saddled with the loss, marking a sharp turn in Opening Day fortunes for the Dominican-born right-hander. Two years earlier, he had pitched the final four innings of the Phillies' 6-5, 13-inning Opening Day win over the Florida Marlins. What's more, he ended up scoring what turned out to be the winning run in the top of the 13th frame.
April 8, 2004 -- Ottawa Lynx 2, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons 0
This year the Red Barons lost by two runs to the Lynx instead of one. There's something to be said for variety, right? Jose Leon's two-run homer in the fifth inning against the late Josh Hancock turned out to be all the runs scored in the ballgame. The Red Barons collected six hits (two for extra bases) and drew four walks, but were unable to capitalize as their Opening Day losing streak entered its fifth year.
April 8, 2005 -- Norfolk Tides 7, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons 4
The Red Barons finally opened their season against a team other than the Lynx, yet the result remained the same. Scranton held a 4-3 lead after six innings, but the Tides plated four runs in the top of the frame to take a 7-4 advantage. Gerald Williams' RBI pinch-triple tied the game at 4-4, while Brian Daubach's two-run double gave the Tides the lead for good. Three of the Red Barons' four runs came as a result of the almighty sacrifice fly, including one by eventual National League Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard.
April 6, 2006 -- Columbus Clippers 13, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons 1
In their last Opening Day as the Red Barons, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre was on the losing end of a good old-fashioned blowout. The Clippers' offensive attack was relentless as the club scored in the first, second, fourth, sixth and seventh innings. Every batter in the starting lineup hit safely, eight scored at least once and seven collected at least one RBI. Meanwhile, the Red Barons mustered five hits. Carlos Ruiz's RBI single in the fourth accounted for the team's lone run.
Cummings: "This was funny, because the Clippers were a Yankees farm team in 2006, and the next year we were the Yankees. In fact, there were four guys who played in the opener for Columbus in 2006 and then played for us in 2007: Kevin Thompson, Kevin Reese, Eric Duncan and Colter Bean."
April 5, 2007 -- Norfolk Tides 7, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees 5
The name and affiliation may have changed, but Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Opening Day song remained the same. And this loss was a particularly brutal one. The newly christened Yankees had a 4-2 lead after seven innings of play, but the Tides' five-run eighth quickly turned that into a three-run deficit. In the decisive eighth, the bullpen combination of (T.J.) Beam and (Colter) Bean combined to allow five runs on five hits and a walk. Luis Montanez's two-run homer turned out to be the difference in the ballgame.
Cummings: "This was the most exciting opener yet, because we really thought the streak was going to end. We changed our name, changed our uniforms and got rid of the Astroturf. Everything was new, and yet we still lost."
April 2, 2008 -- Number Nine or a One-Opener Win Streak?
This year, Kei Igawa takes the mound for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees as they do their best to avoid running their ignominious Opening Day losing streak to nine. In an interesting twist, their opponent will be none other than the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the new Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. The IronPigs will be playing their first official game in franchise history.
"Ever since we started as a franchise [in 1989], we've been streaky on Opening Day," Cummings said. "We lost our first two, then won two, lost four, won three and then lost eight. So if we win this year, we know that's the beginning of a winning streak."
"When it comes to losing on Opening Day, we'll be happy to pass the torch to Lehigh Valley."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.