As Kyle Freeland prepares to take the mound for the 2023 home opener at Coors Field on Thursday, it feels prudent to hop back in the time machine and journey to 1993 and reflect on the amazing pitching performance by Bryn Smith in the very first Colorado Rockies home game when they hosted the Montreal Expos.
We all know about the electrifying and immortal home run that was delivered by Eric Young in the first inning to lead off the Rockies in the bottom of the first, but perhaps overlooked and lost in the annals of Rockies history is the fact that Bryn Smith, at the age of 37, delivered an absolute gem of a pitching performance against his former team in an 11-4 victory.
Remembering a guy
Before we get to the performance, here’s a little background on the career of Bryn Smith.
Born August 11, 1955, in Marietta, GA, Smith was drafted out of Santa Maria High School in California by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 45th round of the 1973 draft. He did not sign with the team and instead signed as an amateur free agent with the Baltimore Orioles in 1974. After stellar three seasons in the Orioles system, Smith was traded to the Expos along with Rudy May and Randy Miller in exchange for Joe Kerrigan, Gary Roenicke and Don Stanhouse in 1977.
He spent the next five years in the Expos system, including two separate stints with the Triple-A Denver Bears in 1978 and 1981, before finally making his big league debut at the age of 26 on September 8, 1981, in a 2⁄3 inning relief appearance against the Philadelphia Phillies.
For the next eight years, Smith enjoyed a good amount of success as part of the Expos rotation. In 193 starts across 284 games with the Expos, Smith compiled an 81-71 record with a 3.28 ERA in 1,400 innings and 838 strikeouts to 341 walks. His time was perhaps highlighted by his 1985 season in which he went 18-5 in 32 starts with a 2.91 ERA across 222 innings.
Following the 1989 season, Smith came full circle and signed with the Cardinals, the team that originally drafted him. For the next two seasons, Smith continued to prove a productive and reliable starter, even if there were diminished returns, making 56 starts between 1990 and 1991. He was relegated to the bullpen in 1992 by the Cardinals and pitched just 21 innings across 13 games, including one start, to a 4.64 ERA as a result of injuries or other circumstances I’m not quite clear on. He was granted free agency at the end of the season and on December 7, 1992, at 37 years old, he joined a brand new expansion team known as the Colorado Rockies.
The Home Opener
So, that brings us to the present(?) for the Rockies’ first home game on April 9, 1993. Having lost the first two games of the season in New York, the Rockies were still looking to get that first franchise victory under their belt and would have a chance to do it against the Expos in front of over 80,000 people at Mile High Stadium in downtown Denver.
Nothing seemed normal about this home opener in Denver. The patchy turf on the field at Mile High Stadium was deemed by manager Don Baylor “Not real good,” and later added, “To just be opening a baseball season in Denver and you have grass that’s not even growing in certain spots, it’s a little strange.” Rockies owner Jerry McMorris said he had offered to pay to resod parts 10 days prior to the game but that nothing had happened.
The Expos themselves had questions about who would take the field due to the injuries to players like Larry Walker and Delino DeShields. Yet the fans of Denver were hungry and showed up in full force to support their brand-new major league team. But who would take the ball for Colorado? In an unconventional move and somewhat surprising one at that, Baylor decided to hand the ball to none other than Bryn Smith, who had made just one start the year prior.
Despite being 37 and possessing an 80 mph fastball that would make Jamie Moyer jealous, Baylor wanted a veteran presence on the mound, and Smith would do just that against his former team.
In the first inning, Smith induced two quick groundouts to second baseman Eric Young before allowing back-to-back singles. With runners on the corners and future Rockie John Vander Wal at the plate, Smith would again induce a weak grounder to second to end the inning. So far, so good.
After the Rockies sent eight men to the plate and scored four runs in the bottom of the first thanks to Young’s famous lead-off home run and another two-run shot by Charlie Hayes, Smith went back to work in the second, inducing three fly balls around an error and a single.
The Rockies added yet another run in the second inning thanks to a single by Alex Cole and an error by the right fielder allowing Young to score and give the Rockies a 5-0 lead.
Moises Alou led off the bottom of the third inning with a double to right field but was cut down trying to stretch it into a triple, giving Smith an easy route to a 1-2-3 inning after inducing a groundout and popfly to retire the Expos.
The Rockies continued to score throughout the game, adding two more in both the fourth and fifth innings to make it 9-0 Rockies and then would score their final two runs in the seventh inning to make it 11-0.
All the while, Bryn Smith continued to induce groundouts in the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings, before finally striking out Archi Cianfrocco for his first and only punch out of the game. After getting Mike Lansing to fly out to right field to end the seventh, Smith’s day was done.
For his efforts and a start for the ages, Smith tossed seven shutout innings, scattering six hits with one strikeout and no walks on 88 pitches. He would earn the victory on the final score of 11-4, giving the Rockies their first-ever win as a team. After the game, Smith said, “This is the biggest win I’ve ever had, and there’s been a lot of them.”
“It was just like a concert,” said Smith, “When I got out on the rubber and I heard everybody roaring, I was just praying to God I wouldn’t fall over when I started my windup.”
Smith’s final season
Unfortunately for Smith, this first start would be the highlight of his brief time with the Rockies. He would make four more starts across 11 games that season going 2-4 with an 8.49 ERA with nine strikeouts and 11 walks in 29 1⁄3 innings. The Rockies would release him at the beginning of June, ending his 13-year big-league career.
While his final season wasn’t anything to write home about, Smith was given a chance to make his mark on the Rockies organization by delivering the first incredible pitching gem in team history.
Thanks to the Rockies YouTube channel, you can check out a condensed version of this game below.
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If you’re looking to set your sights on speculating for the 2023 draft, well we now know what bonus pools and pick values are for each team. The Rockies will have the ninth pick of the draft, valued at $5,716,900, and have a bonus pool of $11,909,800.
Bigger bases and limits on pick-offs are primed to help stolen bases come back in a big way in MLB this season. Thomas Harding has Ezequiel Tovar tabbed as the most likely base-stealing threat for the Rockies, mainly because the team doesn’t have many speedsters on the roster. The Rockies have just a couple of stolen bases through their first handful of games, and if Tovar is going to help change that, he’s going to have to find a way to consistently get on base.
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On the Farm
It was the Isotopes' home opener in Albuquerque and Phillips Valdez got the start in somewhat of a surprise move. He would go three innings, allowing a two-run home to Jo Adell in the first inning, before giving way to Josh Rogers. Rogers would toss three innings, allowing one home run, and leave the game with the Isotopes trailing 3-1 heading into the seventh. Matt Koch would run into some trouble in his 1 1⁄3 innings, giving up two runs in the top of the seventh.
The Isotopes had struggled to string together an offense until things changed in the seventh. Brenton Doyle as part of a two-hit night blasted a two-run home run to make it a two-run game. A few batters later, Michael Toglia blasted a two-run triple to tie the game at five. An inning later with two men in scoring position, Nolan Jones came through with a two-run single that would give the Isotopes a deciding 7-5 victory following a Nick Mears clean ninth to record the save. Other notable performances was Coco Montes two-hit night that also included two walks. Cole Tucker officially went 0-for-1 with three walks.
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