Opening Day at Camden Yards is a special day. Which Baltimore Orioles starting pitchers have been the most dominant on this glorious day?
All I can think about is Opening Day. With football season now behind us and my alma mater’s basketball program nose-diving into the bottom of the conference standings, baseball cannot come soon enough. The Baltimore Orioles will begin the year on the road this season but come April 4th, Oriole Park at Camden Yards will officially open for business in 2019.
There have been many unforgettable moments at Camden Yards since the stadium opened on April 6th, 1992, but the first game of the season is always the most special. With a severe lack offseason activity taking place across the league, especially in Baltimore, it has left me with a lot of time to go back through the history of one of the most storied franchises in baseball, a fun trip down memory lane which I encourage you all to do when you rather not work while at the office.
Today’s look back will examine the most dominating pitching performances for a home opener at Camden Yards. This doesn’t include any games from Memorial Stadium and only includes home openers since 1992.
The first game of the season may be just one of 162, however, I bet you can still recall the feeling you had watching Adam Jones drive a walk-off home run on Opening Day last season against the Minnesota Twins. Even after 115 losses, that moment was pretty special. During a Kid’s Q&A at FanFest, Trey Mancini said it was his favorite moment of 2018. Same, Trey. I’ve largely blocked out the rest of the season from memory.
Climbing the mound to start that game for the Orioles was third-year man Dylan Bundy. While his 16 losses would eventually lead all of baseball (tied with James Shields), Bundy started the season with one of the most dominant performances ever for an Orioles’ home opener at Camden Yards.
In fact, his seven innings of shutout baseball, including seven strikeouts, one walk, and just five hits (all singles) allowed resulted in a Baseball Reference Game Score of 73, the fifth-highest total in Camden Yards history for a home opener. Who are the four Orioles’ pitchers to out-perform Bundy’s 2018 home opener?
Who sits at the top of the list of the most dominant home opening performances by a Baltimore Orioles pitcher at Camden Yards?
Narrowly edging out Bundy by one point on Baseball Reference’s Game Score are two names, one of whom was just recently inducted into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. That’s right, Mike Mussina, who is tied for the franchise lead with Jim Palmer with six Opening Day starts, put in his best Opening Day start back in 1994 against Kevin Appier and the Kansas City Royals.
Given a quick lead in the bottom of the first inning thanks to a solo home run off the bat of Mike Devereaux, Mussina limited the Royals to one run on two hits across eight innings. Needing just 91 pitches, Mussina struck out two, produced 11 groundball outs, and finished with a game score of 74, tied with Pat Hengten for the third-highest mark in franchise history for a Camden Yards opener.
The 25-year-old Mussina would go on to win 16 games in a shortened 1994 season and was the only Baltimore Orioles’ starter to finish with an ERA under 4.00 (3.06) and a WHIP under 1.30 (1.63).
Jake Arrieta out-dueling Carl Pavano and the Minnesota Twins back in 2012 comes in at number two with a game score of 75. His seven-shutout innings earned himself an Opening Day victory, one of just three wins Arrieta would secure all season long. He finished the 2012 season with a 3-9 record and 6.20 ERA, quite the dropoff from his Opening Day dominance.
The best part about this list is the performance that ranks as the top Opening Day start from a Baltimore Orioles pitcher at Camden Yards. That start came in the very first game in the history of Camden Yards, pitched by 18-year MLB veteran, Rick Sutcliffe.
In a game that took just two hours and two minutes, a 36-year-old Sutcliffe went the distance, needing 110 pitches to shutout the Cleveland Indians in front of more than 44,500 fans.
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Working through a lineup of Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle, and Sandy Alomar, just to name a few, Sutcliffe struck out six, walked one, and allowed five hits (all singles), ending with a Baseball Reference Game Score of 82.
In a piece by Tyler Kepner of The New York Times back in 2017, Sutcliffe recalls the conversation he had with former Orioles’ manager Johnny Oates when he found out he was getting the Opening Day nod ahead of a 23-year-old Mike Mussina who finished the 1992 season with an 18-5 record, 2.54 ERA, and an All-Star appearance.
“Johnny, we made a mistake: Mike Mussina’s better than me. You need to pitch him opening day,” Sutcliffe said he told Oates. “And he goes: ‘Ben McDonald’s better than you, too. But I’m not gonna start them on opening day, because I want them to face the No. 3 and 4 pitchers for everybody. If we’re gonna get above .500, it’s gonna be on their shoulders, and I know you can hold your own against everybody else’s opening day guy.’
I think Oats went with the right guy on this afternoon in 1992.
Were you at any of these Camden Yards home openers? Travel down memory lane with us in the comments!