The Orioles’ two biggest pitching acquisitions insisted they would answer the bell for the regular season after struggling in the spring.
One did while the other could not as new closer Mike Gonzalez surrendered a two-run single to Carl Crawford in the bottom of the ninth, and the Orioles fell to the Tampa Bay Rays on Opening Night at Tropicana Field, 4-3.
Kevin Millwood wasn’t brilliant but was certainly good enough in his Orioles debut, pitching five-plus innings and giving up two earned runs before leaving the game in the sixth with a 3-2 lead. The 35-year-old scattered nine hits but struck out five in his seventh career Opening Day start.
The Orioles appeared poised to start the season on a positive note behind Millwood and three solo home runs from Adam Jones, Luke Scott, and Matt Wieters. And despite lingering questions about the bullpen, Matt Albers, Will Ohman, and Jim Johnson tossed three outstanding innings of relief, putting the Orioles in prime position to win their opener before Gonzalez took the hill in the ninth.
It promptly fell apart from there as the 31-year-old could record only one out and loaded the bases before Crawford singled down the right-field line to win it for Tampa Bay.
After battling a stiff back and downplaying the significance of his decreased velocity in the spring, Gonzalez received his first save opportunity of the season—and a chance to silence any doubters—but couldn’t deliver. The velocity may have been there, but the command and results were not. It couldn’t have been a worse debut after Andy MacPhail signed him to a two-year, $12 million deal in December.
In Gonzalez’s defense, the Orioles had opportunities to add to the lead but went 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position, including stranding runners at 2nd and 3rd with none out in the fourth when Rays starter James Shields retired Garrett Atkins, Cesar Izturis, and Brian Roberts. Baltimore left 10 men on base in the game.
Simply put, it was the type of game good ball clubs win—the kind the Orioles haven’t won nearly enough of in the last decade. The Orioles were better than the Rays for eight and a half innings, but they couldn’t put them away despite several opportunities.
So they lost.
Of course, as disappointing as it might seem, this IS only the first of 162 games. Perhaps Gonzalez will save 35 games this season, and this will only be one of a few blips on the radar for the new closer. Maybe Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Matusz toss gems the next two nights and the Orioles still take the opening series of the season.
On the other hand, it’s impossible to ignore the sense of déjà vu seeping into our collective consciences. That “here we go again” mentality has been burned into our collective sports souls over the last 12 years. Time for year 13.
Win or lose, everything is magnified on Opening Day, especially when you’re coming off 12 straight losing seasons and looking for a shred of optimism on Day 1.
A win on Tuesday night wouldn’t have turned the Orioles into an instant contender or changed anyone’s mind about their fortunes in 2010.
But—for one night anyway—it sure would have felt nice.