The last time Kevin Gausman started on Opening Day, he was 26 years old sporting a whole different orange and black. The year was 2017 and Gausman still was trying to prove himself as a former top draft pick for the Baltimore Orioles. He allowed five hits, two earned runs and walked four Toronto Blue Jays on April 3, 2017, in what wound up being a no-decision in an eventual 3-2 Orioles win.
Gausman toed the rubber for the Giants on Thursday night against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park a much different pitcher, now 30 years old and with his fourth different team in the big leagues. He again ended Opening Day with a no-decision, this time in a devastating 8-7 loss in 10 innings as the bullpen blew his brilliant start.
"I thought he did a tremendous job," manager Gabe Kapler said after the loss. "What a great outing for him. Well executed, well-pitched, good stuff, maintained it throughout right up until the end and that's when you saw it diminishing just a little bit."
Gausman wound up pitching 6 2/3 innings -- his longest in 11 starts with the Giants -- and gave up just two hits and one earned run. He walked two batters and struck out six. While the bullpen struggled with command, walking seven batters, Gausman pounded the zone with his fastball and topped out at 96.6 mph to strike out Seattle first baseman Evan White in the fourth inning.
It's always surprising to see a pitcher throw his longest outing in over 20 months on Opening Day, but this is about right where Kapler expected Gausman to be in Game 1. Gausman threw 75 pitches in a five-inning simulated game to end his spring training, so Kapler felt the right-hander could increase his pitch count by about 15 pitches against the Mariners.
That's right where he wound up, too: 90 pitches on the dot.
For his first game of the year, and after 2020's shortened season, Gausman was happy with his outing and felt he still had more to give before his velocity started to dip and Kapler handed the ball over to the bullpen.
"Honestly, I was surprised with how good I felt," Gausman said. "I don't know if it had something to do with the adrenaline, but I definitely felt like I had more in the tank. It just lined up perfect in that situation to bring in a lefty to face a lefty.
"You could definitely tell near the end I was getting a little tired, but at the same time I still felt like I was able to make pitches."
Kapler turned to left-hander Caleb Baragar to face Jake Fraley. He walked Fraley before striking out Tom Murphy to end the seventh inning. Then came trouble as the Giants' bullpen allowed six runs in the eighth inning and Jose Alvarez walked three straight batters to lose the game in the 10th.
Gausman reached another milestone this Opening Day. After signing two separate one-year contracts with San Francisco, Thursday was the first time he pitched with Buster Posey behind the plate.
"I've always said from Day 1, I definitely look forward to creating that battery mate special bond," Gausman said. "Today was definitely a good situation for us and good to get the first one out of the way."
Sure, it wasn't the final score Gausman, Kapler, Posey or the rest of the Giants were hoping for to start off the season. Once again, though, Gausman is making the Giants look like their gamble two years in a row with him is a perfect bet, with the cards flipped to an ace every fifth day this year.