I’m not the first, nor will I be the last person to say that it’s only one game…and so on and so forth. However even given that point, you’d still rather win that one game than lose is, right? That’s exactly what the Orioles did this afternoon, as the beat the Minnesota Twins 4-2 on Opening Day in Baltimore. Hope springs eternal on Opening Day, and there wasn’t much that went on underneath Baltimore’s blonde sunshine that made anyone think otherwise.
The stars of the show were undoubtedly Jake Arrieta and Nick Markakis. Arrieta’s final line: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 K (97 total pitches).Even through 14 straight losing seasons, the Orioles do usually show up on Opening Day, and Arrieta himself even pitched a pretty good game in the home opener last year. However while the game was unfolding I tried to remember when the last time I saw such a dominant Opening Day pitching performance by an Oriole on Opening Day. Arrieta’s fastball was consistently hitting 96-97 MPH, however it was his breaking pitches that impressed me the most. Arrieta threw a couple of absolutely sick curve balls, many of which were called strike threes. Arrieta’s shown a propensity to be able to change speeds very effectively throughout spring training, and that continued into today. Many of his off-speed pitches were in the low to mid-80’s, which is exactly the kind of differentiation for which one would look in an effective pitcher.
At the plate Nick Markakis was the day’s hero. Following a J.J. Hardy walk in the last of the first, Markakis sent a 1-0 pitch over the left field wall. No, that’s not a typo; Markakis homered to left! Markakis is coming off a season in which the home run ball seemed to be absent of his repetoire at times. So what does he do? Not only does he homer in his first at-bat of the new season, but he does so the opposite way. That makes a big difference in how people view your offensive potential. If Markakis is going to hit more for power and the opposite way at that, the Orioles might be onto something. Markakis also figured into the next phase of the Orioles’ scoring on the day, as he went to third in the last of the fourth on Adam Jones’ double, and scored on a sacrifice.
Unfortunately, there were two negatives that I saw. First off, Mark Reynolds’ defense almost had a lapse in the eighth inning. With two outs Jamie Carroll sent a sharp grounder to the hot corner. Reynolds’ wayward throw dragged Chris Davis to the side of first base, however Davis had enough flexibility to keep one foot on the bag to complete the out. Reynolds you’ll remember led the league in errors last year, and all throughout spring training we’ve heard about how he felt that losing 20 lbs would help him to be a better player (and that he’s a better defender than he showed last year). I might be inclined to believe him, however he does need to shore up the defense in the field. If he bops another 37 home runs he still might give up more than he puts out.
Buck Showalter brought in reliever Troy Patton to pitch the 9th inning given that Minnesota was batting two lefties. Patton walked the first batter on four straight pitches, and proceeded to give up a two-run homer to Josh Willingham. Shades of Opening Day 2010 (when Michael Gonzalez gave up the go-ahead runs in the 9th) started to rumble through the yard. However Showalter brought in newly anointed (as of this morning) closer Jim Johnson in to make the final two outs. I’m not prepared to say that Patton is going to be this year’s Kevin Gregg or Michael Gonzalez, and in fact I do believe in giving people a chance. However I would suggest that he work on his command of the strike zone, so as to keep Buck Showalter’s confidence.
As I said, it’s only one game. But it was a great game, and the Orioles earned themselves a great team victory today. At the very least, it started the season off on the right foot. However the Orioles can’t celebrate too hard, because they have to come back and do it all again tomorrow night!
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