Fernando Valenzuela made 10 relief appearances in 1980, but had yet to fully thrust himself into the national spotlight until the 1981 season. Jerry Reuss was the expected starter on Opening Day in 1981 against the Houston Astros, but was replaced by Valenzuela because of injury.
It was the first start for the young left-hander and marked the beginning of what simply became known as Fernandomania. With an arsenal of pitches that included a screwball, Valenzuela went the distance in his first career start. While Valenzuela shut the Astros out, it wasn’t necessarily due to him being unhittable, but rather a testament to his perseverance. The Astros got a man on base in five of the first six innings, and threatened with the tying and go-ahead runners on second and third with one out in the sixth inning. Valenzuela worked himself out of the jam and wound up striking out five Astro hitters en route to a 2-0 win.
The complete game victory was the first of eight straight games where Valenzuela went the distance and picked up the win.
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