On Wednesday night, the Orioles explored how bad a team can play in a baseball game and still win it and they still managed to win. On Thursday afternoon, they showed up in front of the first crowd to be at Camden Yards in 18 months to continue the experiment. A sellout (at 25% capacity) crowd got about five fun innings of baseball before things ultimately went south and the O’s dropped the home opener to the Red Sox, 7-3.
Before digging in to the many things that were not so fun about this game, let’s start with a note that is fun. A highlight of both the pre-game festivities and the game itself was the appearance of Trey Mancini, in front of a home crowd for the first time since his cancer diagnosis and treatment.
In the home opener player introductions, the show was briefly stopped as fans delivered a minute-long ovation for Mancini. When Mancini came up to the bat in the first inning, he got another ovation, this one joined by Red Sox players, who clapped their hands into their gloves along with the cheering crowd.
It would be melodramatic to say that was the last good moment in the game for the Orioles, and also untrue. As things worked out, they carried a 3-2 lead into the sixth inning, with unlikely home opener starter Matt Harvey making a bid for a quality start as he faced the middle of the Red Sox lineup for a third time.
After Harvey allowed a leadoff single to Rafael Devers, he got the next batter, Christian Vázquez, to hit a blooper that a competent and experienced left fielder would have caught. The Orioles left fielder in the game was Ryan Mountcastle, whose left field competence is more of an aspiration on the team’s part and whose experience is minimal. The floater, with a Statcast expected batting average (xBA) of .030, fell in for a hit.
This chased Harvey in favor of lefty Paul Fry, for reasons known only to the O’s dugout decisionmaker at that moment. Manager Brandon Hyde had been ejected earlier, heatedly and futilely arguing against Rio Ruiz being called for a swing on a pitch that hit him.
Fry was bad in spring training, not confidence-inspiring in his first 2021 outing, and did little to dispel any concern in the home opener. He walked the first batter he saw to load the bases, and after a groundout scored one inherited runner, Fry gave up a single to score another run. Both were charged to Matt Harvey, whose final line was five innings pitched, with four runs allowed on seven hits and a walk. Maybe he deserved more of a chance to work out of a jam that was not his fault.
On the run-scoring single, Mountcastle airmailed the throw in past the cutoff man and allowed the runners to advance. Fry’s relief, Dillon Tate, showed Fry more courtesy than Fry showed Harvey and the extra base from this poor play did not cost the O’s on the scoreboard. Tate was helped by Enrique Hernández getting caught in a rundown while trying to score on what would have been a wild pitch, if he hadn’t recorded a TOOTBLAN (thrown out on the basepaths like a nincompoop) instead.
A team that trails headed into the bottom of the sixth inning still has twelve outs to work with. That’s time to make something happen. The Orioles just... didn’t. They got only one hit after falling behind in the sixth inning, an eighth inning single hit by Mancini.
The Orioles did add two things to their total. One was runs allowed and the other was strikeouts. Tate, Shawn Armstrong, and Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells are all charged with a run, with Armstrong managing to give up a run while getting just one out. Like Fry, his early appearances have not been confidence-inspiring.
By the time the game ended, the Orioles had struck out 14 times in the game. What’s noteworthy about this is that they struck out at least 13 times in each of their previous four games before this, and adding a fifth such 13+ strikeout game set a new MLB record. Freddy Galvis was the worst culprit with three strikeouts today. He’s already struck out 10 times in 28 plate appearances this season.
Seven of the O’s 13 strikeouts were racked up by former Orioles prospect Eduardo Rodriguez, who was making his own return to the diamond after missing the entire 2020 season. Rodriguez did not play last year due to myocarditis, heart inflammation that he suffered after contracting COVID-19. He gave up three runs to the O’s in five innings, with all of the damage coming from two home runs.
Right this second, even after this deflating loss, the Orioles are tied for first place in the American League East. So that’s fun. But let’s not kid ourselves: This is a team that’s probably going to set, or at least challenge, some more bad records before all is said and done.
The O’s and Red Sox traded two-run homers in the first inning to get the game started off with a bang. Devers hit an absolute no-doubter 452 feet off of Harvey with a man on base, and Mountcastle countered in the bottom of the inning with an only-slight-doubter that went 404 feet over the right-center fence.
The defensive mistakes will be easier to live with if Mountcastle hits enough homers. So far, he has one homer, and he has made three defensive miscues in two games. The ratio is not what you want.
In all, the Orioles had just five hits. It is hard to win a game when you only get five hits. The O’s pulled off a win with four hits just the day before, but everything broke their way. In this game, it did not.
It’s only been seven games, so it’s too early to panic, and if you had no expectations for this team in the first place then you might never panic about much. That said, there are only two hitters from today’s lineup who ended the game with an OPS above .606. Those hitters are Cedric Mullins and Pedro Severino. Severino hit a solo shot in the fourth inning to put the O’s up 3-2 until Harvey and his first baseman/designated hitter playing left field ran into trouble.
As the Orioles did not opt to postpone their home opener on a day with no rain at game time like the Red Sox did do the Orioles a week ago, the Friday off day built in to the schedule will not need to have a game played. The O’s and Boston won’t be back in action until Saturday at 7:05, when Baltimore’s own Bruce Zimmermann and Garrett Richards are set for a rematch from last Saturday. First place will be on the line, as the O’s and Sox are both 4-3 right now.
Richards was the starting pitcher of the only game so far where the Orioles have scored more than four runs. Perhaps they can get the offense kick-started against him again.