Hey, you! Yes, you! Have you taken a gander at the AL East standings lately? Go on and do it, I’ll wait here.
Ah, you’re back. Yeah, pretty cool, huh?
It may be only three games into the season, but few things are better than seeing the Baltimore Orioles atop the division. And even fewer things are better than seeing the Orioles humiliate the Boston Red Sox in getting there. Today, everything clicked, as an explosive O’s offense backed a strong starting pitching performance to secure the Orioles’ first season-opening three-game sweep in five years.
The Orioles didn’t waste any time getting the party started, with Cedric Mullins lashing a leadoff double against Sox starter Garrett Richards, a strong indication of how things were about to go for both Mullins and Richards this afternoon. Trey Mancini followed with a sharp single, and Anthony Santander squibbed a base hit through the middle to give the O’s a quick lead. Richards looked like he might get out of the jam without further damage, striking out the next two batters. But he fell behind Maikel Franco 3-0 in the count and the O’s third baseman got the green light, swinging at a fat fastball and smacking it down the left-field line for a two-run double.
Richards was fortunate to escape a threat in the second after the O’s got two runners in scoring position, but his luck ran out in the third. Oh, what a glorious, delightful third inning it was for the Orioles. Ryan Mountcastle played spark plug with a leadoff walk, followed by a Rio Ruiz single (his first hit of the year) and a Franco free pass. Sox manager Alex Cora had seen enough of Richards, as had the restless Fenway Park crowd, which booed the right-hander off the mound. I’m soooo glad fans are back this year, Richards surely thought to himself.
All three inherited runners promptly scored, as reliever Josh Taylor was even worse. He missed badly on four straight pitches to Freddy Galvis, walking in a run, and Austin Hays then lashed a double to the left-field corner to plate two more.
With one out and men at second and third, things got weird. Mullins looped a sinking liner into center field; Enrique Hernandez dove for it and ended up with the ball in his glove, though it was initially unclear whether it was ruled a catch or trap. The baserunners dove back to their bags (Galvis inexplicably hadn’t tagged up), but Mullins was credited with a single, so the bases were loaded. No matter — all three of those guys ended up scoring, the first two on a Mancini double and the third on a passed ball.
As the inning stretched on, the fun continued. Mountcastle, batting for the second time in the inning, poked an RBI single for the Orioles’ seventh run of the inning and 10th of the game. Any day that you’re up 10-0 in the third inning is a good day. #analysis
At that point it seemed the O’s were a sure bet to score at least 14 runs and settle at least one question in the Camden Chat Pre-Season Contest. But the Red Sox unleashed their secret weapon, Rule 5 right-hander Garrett Whitlock, whose MLB debut turned out to be an outstanding one. Whitlock stymied the Orioles over 3.1 scoreless innings of relief, striking out five. Maybe the Sox should have had him start the game.
Still, O’s starter Bruce Zimmermann made do with a measly 10 runs of support. The left-hander, who I am bound by law to mention is a Maryland native, delivered a quality start in his 2021 debut, providing early hope that he can carry over his spring training success into the regular season despite not being a ballyhooed prospect. Zimmermann didn’t waste time nibbling the corners or gifting the Red Sox free baserunners with his huge lead, instead attacking the strike zone and challenging hitters.
How efficient was Zimmermann? In the first inning, he threw 10 pitches. In the second inning, he threw 10 pitches. In the third inning, he threw 10 pitches. In the fourth inning, he threw...10 pitches. Yeah, that’ll do! (Paging Jayson Stark: how many pitchers have thrown exactly the same number of pitches in each of the first four innings of a start?)
A thousand curses upon Christian Arroyo, who fouled off an 0-2 pitch with two outs in the fifth, forcing Zimmermann to throw — gasp! — an 11th pitch in that frame. I guess nobody’s perfect, Bruce.
But his outing wasn’t far from it. He held the Red Sox to three runs in six innings, which included a J.D. Martinez fourth-inning homer, the only dinger of the series for either team. Zimmermann gave up four hits and walked one while striking out five. All told, O’s starting pitchers in this opening series combined for a 2.55 ERA. And here we thought the rotation was going to be a disaster! (Spoiler: it still could be. Don’t throw my words back at me if it is.)
The Orioles weren’t quite finished with the offensive heroics yet, thanks to the best game of Cedric Mullins’ life. The O’s leadoff man, who’d already collected four hits by the fourth inning, swatted a two-bagger in the top of the ninth to complete an incredible 5-for-5, three-double game (plus a walk!). Mullins is now 9-for-13 in the first three games of the year.
Cedric Mullins is the first Oriole ever, and sixth player since 1952, to record five hits, three doubles and at least one walk in the same game.— Joe Trezza (@JoeTrezz) April 4, 2021
The last was Indians catcher Kelly Shoppach, against the Tigers, on July 30, 2008.
Remember two years ago when Mullins was so terrible that he got demoted all the way back to Double-A? Yeah...this is definitely not the same guy.
After Cole Sulser worked two scoreless innings, Brandon Hyde turned to rookie right-hander Tyler Wells, one of two Rule 5 picks in the O’s bullpen, to make his MLB debut in the ninth. The 26-year-old hadn’t thrown a professional pitch since Aug. 31, 2018, for the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts before undergoing Tommy John surgery in May 2019, and now here he was standing on the Fenway Park mound. Wells, though, acclimated himself well. He allowed a walk and a single but retired three batters to finish off the game and the sweep.
The only negative news to come out of today’s contest involved Austin Hays, who left the game in the third inning with right hamstring discomfort, another disappointing outcome for a player whose young major league career has been riddled with health problems. Let’s hope the injury is minor and Hays will be back on the field soon.
Aside from that, you could hardly have scripted a better opening weekend for the Orioles’ 2021 season. The first-place Birds now head to Yankee Stadium to try to keep the momentum going.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Sunday, April 4?
This poll is closed
Cedric Mullins (5-for-5, three doubles, three runs)
Bruce Zimmermann (6 IP, 3 ER, first major league win)