Is there anything quite like winning on Opening Day? The good feelings of infinite hope and promise get to carry over for another day. The Orioles record is still unblemished after a 6-2 victory over the Rays. They're on pace to go 162-0. They won't, of course, but they haven't lost yet. Anything is still possible for them.
If you were going to draw up a blueprint of how the Orioles might come out of the gate answering all of the critics who believe they suffered irreplaceable losses with the departures of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, it couldn't have gone much better than this game did. Alejandro De Aza hit a two-run homer. Steve Pearce crushed a solo homer. Travis Snider had a 3-4 Orioles debut and drove in two runs. If the Orioles corner outfield crew is just going to keep on homering, things will go well this year.
Ryan Flaherty also homered for the O's, ensuring that he will not open up this season like the last two, with an 0-17 streak.
Not all of the awesome moments came as the result of home runs. Caleb Joseph was another star of the game. He spent Opening Day destroying the foolish dreams of foolish men. Those who crossed him were left battered shells of their former selves, or, at the very least, out on the basepaths like a nincompoop. All who tread across his path shall tremble and despair.
Things were off to a good start from the first batter of the game. De Aza led off with a little roller up the first base line, and the idea of his speed forced Rays pitcher Chris Archer into making a throwing error that put De Aza safely on first. Manny Machado added a walk to give the O's two men on and none out to begin the season. That is good! Two batters later they still had two men on but two outs. Not as good.
Snider would be given a chance to drive in a run from third in his first plate appearance of the year. He obliged with a little chopper into the hole where a fielder might have been due to the shift on him. Since there was a man on third, no one was there to get to the ball. Snider drove in De Aza and the O's were off to the races.
The last thing you want to see your starting pitcher do after coming in with a lead is walk the leadoff batter. Unfortunately that's exactly what Chris Tillman did to John Jaso to start the bottom of the first. Later in the inning Tillman threw a curveball that skipped a bit away from Joseph. Jaso tried to advance to second. Joseph pounced on the ball, fired across the diamond to Flaherty covering second, and obliterated Jaso from existence.
Actually, Flaherty blocked second base with his leg and tagged out Jaso, who sprained his wrist making a head first slide and left the game. Let's not get bogged down by details.
The next who tried to take a base with Joseph on patrol was Stephen Souza Jr., who got the Rays first hit of the game leading off the fourth inning against Tillman. Souza hit a grounder deep in the hole to short. Flaherty dove and gloved the ball but his throw to first just deflected off the glove of an outstretched Pearce. It was too late to get the runner anyway. Souza, who thought the ball would go all the way to the dugout, took a couple of steps towards second and was then hung out to dry when Joseph alertly backed up the play.
Joseph actually got a rundown started that took three throws before Flaherty tagged out Souza with a clumsy dive, but again, let's not get bogged down by details.
With one out in the top of the fifth, Joseph delivered a double, putting him on base for De Aza's home run. The Orioles led 3-0 at this point in the game. Nor was Joseph done contributing to the game; the bottom of the fifth ended when the Rays third base coach opted to test the Orioles. He sent James Loney to try to score from second on a Logan Forsythe single to right.
Manning right field was the new Oriole Snider, who fired a strike in to home. Joseph kept the runner from home without illegally blocking the plate (at least, in the estimation of the umpires in New York tasked with the review) then slapped a tag on Loney to end the inning. Don't run on him. Don't run to him. Stand perfectly still and you may yet live.
This play at the plate was quite a contrast to one the Orioles pulled off in the eighth inning. Pearce walked with two outs. Snider followed him with a double, his third hit of the game, and the windmill was spinning in the third base coaches box despite Tropicana Field being a dome with no wind. Pearce was barely halfway home when the ball reached Rays catcher Rene Rivera. MASN played the music and cut to commercial.
Then, like a bad TV commercial: But wait, there's more!
We returned mid-commercial to learn the Orioles initiated a replay challenge. It turned out that Rivera never bothered to crouch down, and Pearce alertly slid as he reached home, slipping his foot between Rivera's feet and to the plate. Rivera's tag was late. The run scored after all. The Orioles held a 5-1 lead.
Tillman did what Tillman does. He didn't look the smoothest, but when the dust settled, he had gone 6.2 innings while only allowing four hits. He also walked three. Will that fly against a better lineup than the Rays? We'll find out. The lone run Tillman allowed was a monster solo shot by Evan Longoria. This too is what Tillman does: Gives up solo homers. One win down, 19 to go.
The game briefly became a save situation in the eighth inning. Brad Brach faced three batters, two of which reached on some bad BABIP luck. One of those runs scored with Tommy Hunter on the mound, still charged to Brach.
Flaherty's home run came in the ninth and set the game up with its 6-2 final score. Zach Britton came on to pitch anyway since he'd already warmed up, striking out two batters in the process. He gave up no hits or walks, though a runner reached on a strikeout due to a passed ball on Joseph.
Rookie Nate Karns awaits the O's tomorrow in the season's second game. Wei-Yin Chen will get the start for the O's for the 7:05 game. Baseball is back, y'all. Things are good.