The Baltimore Orioles got their 2013 season off to a good start this afternoon, outhitting their divisional opponents despite blowing several opportunities to break the game open. And Jason Hammel, making his first career start on Opening Day, was just good enough to get the win, giving up three runs in six innings.
Last year's Cy Young Award winner David Price took the mound for the Rays, so going in I don't think many of us expected the Orioles to score many runs. They ended up getting just two runs off of Price, though they certainly had the opportunity for more.
Price quickly retired the first two batters of the game, Nick Markakis and Manny Machado, on ground outs. But he couldn't get rid of the O's that quickly. The next batter, Adam Jones, doubled over the head of center fielder Desmond Jennings, and came around to score on a home run by Matt Wieters. It was the beginning of a big game for both players, and the Orioles were surprisingly out to an early lead against the tough lefty.
Hammel was hit hard in the first inning by the Rays, but thanks to a nice play by Nolan Reimold in left field to save at least a double, he didn't give up any runs. He got his act together after that, getting the Rays in order in the second and third and after three innings had just thirty pitches. He gave up a solo home run to Ben Zobrist in the fourth inning to cut the lead to 2-1.
The Orioles, on the other hand, put base runners on against Price throughout the remainder of his start but couldn't cash in. Reimold singled to lead off the second but was picked off, and in the third inning the Orioles loaded the bases with one out for Chris Davis, who hit into a soul crushing double play to end the inning. That inning featured one of the finest at-bats you'll ever see as Matt Wieters worked Price to a full count and then fouled off pitch after pitch until, on the 13th pitch of the at-bat, Price walked him.
After wasting leadoff doubles in the fourth and sixth innings by J.J. Hardy and Wieters, respectively, the Orioles went into the bottom of the sixth inning clinging to their one-run lead. It was then that Hammel, who was still in good shape, pitch count wise, lost his way. He walked Kelly Johnson, who came around to score on a double by Jennings. Jennings was then bunted over to third and came in to score on a long fly ball out from Zobrist, and just like that the lead was gone. A ground out by Evan Longoria ended the inning.
In the seventh inning, David Price was taken out of the game to the delight of the Orioles. Relieving him was Jake McGee...wait, what? The guy who faced 29 Orioles batters last year and struck out 17 of them? Who gave up just three hits and no runs? The one who allowed just a .168 batting average against in 2012? Hm...could we get Price back, please?
Actually, it didn't quite turn out the way I imagined it would. McGee did retire Steve Pearce on a fly ball, but then gave up back-to-back singles to Brian Roberts and Markakis (hey, just like the old days!) before facing Machado. Poor Manny was absolutely over matched by McGee and struck out swinging on just three pitches. But stepping to the plate was Adam Jones, who had smoked the ball every time so far during the game. He didn't let a little thing like McGee's 98 mph fastball change that, either. He lined a double to center field bringing in both Roberts and Markakis. O's up 4-3!
Next up was Wieters, who already had a home run, a double, and a thirteen-pitch walk on the day. The Rays wanted no part of him and intentionally walked him to get to the left-handed hitting Davis. Davis didn't take kindly to such disrespect, and in retaliation hit one of his trademark bombs to right field to give the Orioles some breathing room. You can check out his Earl Weaver Special here. Trust me, it's pretty.
With the lead back in hand, Buck Showalter turned to the bullpen to close things out. Troy Patton came in and faced two batters, one of who reached base. When Shelley Duncan, who apparently is still around, pinch hit for James Loney, Showalter went to Darren O'Day. O'Day got out of the inning unscathed, but did give up a run in the eighth inning thanks in part to an error by Matt Wieters that allowed Desmond Jennings to get to third, where he'd come in on a ground out.
With the three-run lead dictating a save situation, Jim Johnson came in for that ninth. He gave up a lead off single to Longoria, but struck out Ryan Roberts and induced a game ending double play from Yunel Escobar.
O's win! They turned a frustrating first half of the game into a fun victory thanks to the 3-4-5 hitters of Jones, Wieters, and Davis. I'm looking forward to spending the season watching Roberts and Markakis set the table for those three, aren't you?