Until the Baltimore Orioles reported to Sarasota for spring training, all we had heard was how disappointing the off season had been. There were actually people out there (pundits and fans alike) who were suggesting that the team would return to the mediocrity of the 65-70 win realm, even though the core group of players was still there. However it wasn’t until the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez and later Nelson Cruz were signed and in camp that the Orioles’ off season was deemed a success. And if the results of Opening Day combined with how the events played out are any indication, the off season was certainly a huge sweeping success.
First off, you really couldn’t ask for a better day to open the baseball season weather-wise. It was what one might call a “Chamber of Commerce day.” The Orioles began by paying homage to the likes of Paul Blair, Monica Barlow, Tom Clancy, and the rest of the extended Orioles family that had passed away since Opening Day of last year. Once the national anthem was sung and the first ball thrown out, it was Play Ball! at the yard! Chris Tillman labored through five innings of the game, although he did have decent stuff yesterday. Tillman’s line: 5 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K. As I say quite often, starting pitchers will have approximately thirty starts in a big league season – 10 good, 10 bad, and 10 in-between. Count this one in that third category for Chris Tillman yesterday. The fact is that Boston’s a good team and they take a lot of pitches. He was lifted after five innings due to a high pitch count (104), not missing his spots.
Boston starter Jon Lester on the other hand had his great stuff. So from the Orioles standpoint, if you can beat a pitcher when he’s really “on,” you’re really in business. The Birds took a 1-0 lead in the last of the second on a GIDP by Delmon Young. It was a disjointed double-play that allowed Nelson Cruz to score from third base. However Boston tied the game in the fourth when Grady Sizemore hit his first homer in the majors in almost three years over the right field scoreboard. Sizemore is actually a pretty decent story for the Boston Red Sox; he signed a minor league contract during the off season, and beat out Jackie Bradley Jr. for the starting centerfielder job in spring training. Bradley was expected to start the season at triple-A Pawtucket, however a hamstring injury forced Shane Victorino to the DL and Bradley was called up in time for yesterday’s game.
Zach Britton pitched two nearly flawless innings, and in the process became the beneficiary of 2014’s inaugural version of Orioles Magic. After giving up one hit in the sixth and then literally breezing through the seventh, Britton retired to the Orioles’ dugout as the Birds came to bat after the seventh inning stretch. With Evan Meek warming in the ‘pen, Nelson Cruz stepped to the plate to lead off the last of the seventh. Lester had been a bit high in the strike zone to close out the sixth, which was a sign that he might have been starting to tire. Cruz jumped on the first
pitch he saw, and deposited it in the left field seats to give the O’s a 2-1 lead.
One-run leads are tough to manage against anyone, much less the defending champions. As Tommy Hunter came in from the bullpen to pitch the ninth inning, he did so knowing that he’d have to see the top of Boston’s potent order. He began by hitting Wil Middlebrooks, thus putting him on base. After a Nava pop out and a Pedroia single, Boston had the go-ahead run at first base with one down. David Ortiz stepped to the plate, knowing that he had all but owned Tommy Hunter in the past – yet Hunter defied the odds and Ortiz’s high drive to left died in Nelson Cruz’s glove. Hunter proceeded to strike out Jackie Bradley Jr., and the O’s had themselves a 2-1 Opening Day victory.
There are still 161 of these to go, each and every one of them as important as yesterday’s game. However getting a win against a divisional foe on Opening Day is always a great start to a season. And it shouldn’t go unnoticed that a newcomer was the guy that ended up netting the winning homer. Furthermore, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that I myself have made a big deal out of the fact that the O’s were 10-21 in one-run games last season; I’ve also said that plugging in Cruz’s 30 or so homers to the lineup could flip that number a bit. Go figure, the O’s win a one-run game on Opening Day due to a Cruz home run. One game a season does not make, but it’s a good start.