Legendary Orioles manager Earl Weaver threw out the ceremonial pitch before today's home opener in Baltimore. The 2011 vintage Orioles who took the field for the game followed his blueprint by having solid pitching and defense and with a well-timed three-run home run that broke a tie and put the Orioles ahead for good on the way to a 5-1 victory over the Tigers.
The score was 1-1 going into the bottom of the 5th inning, with both of the young starters, Jake Arrieta for the Orioles and Rick Porcello for the Tigers, having made some mistakes but escaping largely unscathed. But the second time through the bottom of the Orioles lineup was just too much for Porcello. Felix Pie lead off with a single and J.J. Hardy followed with a double down the left field line. That left two men on base with Brian Roberts stepping to the plate, and for the second straight game he launched a three-run home run to break a tie. This time he hit a fly ball to right center field that looked to be catchable, but it just kept carrying and carrying and the outfielders ran out of room and could only watch it sail out of there.
The sold-out crowd of 46,593 erupted, and the fireworks hadn't quite ended. Nick Markakis doubled down the right field line, eventually scoring on a bloop single by Matt Wieters, putting the score at the 5-1 margin it would remain for the duration.
Arrieta continued the trend for Orioles starters of getting decent numbers, mostly because the balls that were hit seemed to find fielders. There were a number of nice defensive plays, with Pie standing out in chasing a couple of balls down in left field and Derrek Lee gobbling up any throw in the direction of first base. Jake walked two and struck out three in six innings, allowing six hits but only one run. We can hope for more from Jake, as he still gets into way too many three ball counts that keep him from going deeper into the game. But for today he was good enough, and some days that's all you need.
I must still really be scarred by the performance of Michael Gonzalez in the first week of last season, because I approach these games expecting some kind of dramatic bullpen meltdown. Relative peace and quiet is unexpected, but not unwelcome. Since Arrieta only went six, that meant three innings to cover by the 'pen. Buck brought in Jason Berken, who pitched two strong innings, striking out three and only allowing one hit. Koji Uehara finished off the Tigers with a perfect ninth.
In the post-game interview with Tom Davis, Roberts was asked how it feels to start out 4-0, and he said he didn't know because it's the first time that's happened since he has been here. That is correct: the last 4-0 start was 1997. There's no reason to expect the wire-to-wire dominance from that season, but it's sure pretty fun while it's lasting, isn't it?
What we've seen in these first four games is a continuation of the closing of last season, with starting pitchers working their way out of jams, enough timely hitting to win the game, and appropriate bullpen use (for the most part). Of course, a 1.00 ERA is not sustainable in the long run, but the hitters, outside of those named Roberts, Markakis and Hardy, are barely even warmed up yet. It all adds up to the Orioles remaining in first place in the AL East, a game ahead of the Yankees.
Today's demerits go to Adam Jones, who had a couple of WTF moments. In the field, he badly misread a fly ball that dropped in for a base hit. At the plate, he performed a Miguel Tejada-vintage GIDP, of the kind where he GIDPs on the first pitch when the previous batter had walked. Few things drive me more nuts than that. You're killin' me, Adam!
The celebration of perfection gets to last through an off day tomorrow. Due to a bad case of pneumonia, Wednesday's scheduled starter, Jeremy Guthrie, has been pushed back and will be replaced by Brad Bergesen. Pitching for the Tigers is Justin Verlander. On paper, that seems to be a bit of an unfair matchup, but perhaps the incredible Birdland karma that's started up the 2011 season hasn't been fully exhausted yet.
4-0. Who would have seen this coming?