Opening Day is finally here! The long winter and the long wait for the season are finally over! (though it snowed yesterday) The Orioles opened their 2014 season at home against the 2013 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, and won a nail-biter against their AL East foe, thanks to a clutch homer by newcomer Nelson Cruz.
Jon Lester, the Opening Day starter for Boston, was cruising through the first six innings when Cruz stepped to the plate to lead off the 7th inning. The first pitch, a 91 mph fastball in the middle of the plate, was pulled over the LF wall, as the O's regained their one run lead that would last the game. Despite the questions surrounding his PED controversy last season and his contract status in the offseason, Cruz certainly deserves a warm welcome from Baltimore for his performance tonight. Other than the game-winning homerun, he also walked to lead off the 2nd inning, and scored the first run of the season for the O's when Delmon Young hit into a double play after Matt Wieters's single. Furthermore, playing LF today, he made a leaping catch on a deep fly ball by Bogaerts with runners on 1st and 2nd in the top of the second inning. Cruz barely made the catch, and it would most likely be a routine fly ball for David Lough, but he made the catch nonetheless.
Of course, Cruz's effort would not have led to an Orioles victory if the pitchers could not hold down the Red Sox offense that was the best in the league in 2013. Chris Tillman, the Opening Day starter for the O's, survived a few deep line drives to give up only one run on a homerun by Grady Sizemore that barely cleared the RF wall. He was done after five innings due to high pitch count. He gave up 7 hits and 1 walk, but also struck out four in five innings. I was a little bit worried when he opened the game with a 89 mph fastball, but he soon found his velocity and maintained his fastball at the low 90s for the rest of the game. Tillman also received help from the O's defense. Other than the aforementioned catch by Cruz, Adam Jones made a few nice plays on deep fly balls to the warning track, allowing Tillman to escape with only one run allowed.
Zach Britton was great in his two innings of relief, giving up only one hit. Most of the O's fans have given up on Britton at this point of his career, but with Troy Patton out for 25 games, the Orioles have a need for a second lefty in the bullpen behind Brian Matusz, and Britton can fill that need.
Evan Meek came in to pitch the 8th inning. It was a curious decision by Buck Showalter. Ryan Webb and Darren O'Day are clearly superior options. Does Buck not know that spring training stats should be ignored almost completely? Or does it mean that Webb and O'Day are not at full health? We may never know. Meek gave up two walks to the four batters he faced and left two runners on base for Matusz to face A.J. Pierzynski. He did make a nice play on a grounder by Mike Carp that Chris Davis could not field cleanly. The ball bounced back towards Meek, and he fumbled it before firing it to first to get the first out of the inning. Matusz was efficient and only need three pitches to get Pierzynski to hit a one-hopper back to Matusz for an easy out.
It wouldn't be an Orioles game without some late game drama. New closer Tommy Hunter has clearly learned from his predecessor Jim Johnson. He started the ninth with a HBP to Will Middlebrooks. After a pop out by Daniel Nava, Dustin Pedroia singled on a line drive to CF. With two on and David Ortiz at the plate, I was looking at the nightmare of revising my first ever game recap. Fortunately, Hunter, like Johnson so many times in the last two seasons, settled down and got a routine fly ball to LF from Big Papi. He then struck out Jackie Bradley, who pinch ran for Mike Napoli in the previous inning, looking on a 93 mph fastball at the belt, and my nightmare is averted.
It was a one-run victory for the O's, something that did not happen as often as we hope last season. Maybe this win is a harbinger for things to come this season, as the O's hope to capture their Orioles Magic in 2012 on their way to their second playoff appearance in three years.