One big question going into last night’s game was whether or not the Orioles could come back and play a “normal” game after the pomp and circumstance that surrounds Opening Day. The Birds answered that call, behind Tommy Hunter’s superb performance: 7 IP (plus part of the 8th inning), 6 H, 2 R (1 earned), 1 BB, 3 K. Hunter mixed his fastball with a backdoor slider that kept Minnesota hitters guessing all night. Speaking for myself, I was really impressed with Hunter. As I said he kept the Twins guessing, and when Buck Showalter emerged from the dugout to lift him in the top of the eighth he received a Camden Yards “standing O” as he left the field. Even though Minnesota loaded the bases in the eighth inning (and scored two runs), Pedro Strop got out of the inning with a strikeout.
When I say that it rained baseballs at the Yard, I’m referring to the Orioles’ three home runs. Adam Jones homered in the last of the second, followed by Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters in the last of the seventh. All three of those were solo shots. Taken out of the context of the rest of the game, that’s only three runs. The Orioles scored eight on the night, which means that they manufactured five. Through the first two games, I’ve seen a noticeable difference in the Orioles’ baserunning. As an example, in the third inning Robert Andino hustled to third base on Nolan Reimold’s infield single when he noticed that Minnesota third baseman Danny Valencia was slightly off the bag. Those are the small intangibles that win games which people don’t really notice. J.J. Hardy grounded into a double-play which counts as an RBI since Andino scored. If not for that heads-up base running, the O’s only have two outs and a runner at third in that situation. Later in the game the Birds had two runners in scoring position and Robert Andino came up with an RBI-double. As Nolan Reimold came to the plate Andino came up with more good base running as he took off on Nolan Reimold’s bloop single, which allowed him to score. Again, small intangibles.
The first two games of the season have unfolded as light heartedly as a Mother Goose nursery rhyme. Let’s not kid ourselves; this will not be how the entire season goes. You will have your struggles no matter how good you are through 162 games, and no matter how much you might struggle in some seasons you’ll also have your share of good moments. That’s part of the ebb and flow of major league baseball. This afternoon the Orioles go for the sweep of Minnesota, and in doing so they find their opponent in a situation that they know very well from years past. Starter Liam Hendricks was admitted to a Baltimore hospital on Saturday morning with a case of food poisoning. (Best wishes for a speedy recovery for Hendricks.) Reliever Anthony Swarzak will step in and make the start in Hendricks’ place against Jason Hammel who will make his Oriole debut this afternoon. Granted food poisoning is not something that we’ve seen in Oriole pitchers, the Birds do know what it’s like to have to call on a reliever to make a spot start. This in theory puts the Orioles at an advantage this afternoon because while Swarzak has made spot starts in the past he’s also primarily a reliever. Furthermore, the Twins’ bullpen will be a man short today after being taxed last night.
Nevertheless, a sweep of an opponent in an opening series at home would be huge for the O’s. Keep in mind that the Orioles did this last season when they swept Tampa (on the road) and they ended up starting the year 6-1 before things went south. However I do feel that there’s a different feel this time around. This goes for the fans as well; there seemed to be a lot of excitement around the ballpark last night for a team that was expected to finish with their 15th straight losing season. In the past we’ve also seen sell outs on Opening Day only to have 10K people show up the next night; 31K plus saw the Orioles beat Minnesota last night. Again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and think that the future doesn’t hold some rocky days at some point, however my impression of this team is that perhaps they’re better equipped to deal with adversity than they were in the past. Adversity happens in all of our lives and on all teams in all sports; it’s how you deal with it that defines who you are. Putting all of that aside, the Orioles can certainly make a statement by completing a sweep of the Twins this afternoon at the Yard.