The Orioles’ season-opening win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday had just about everything you’d like to see.
A five-run seventh inning turned a 3-2 deficit into a 7-4 a comeback victory over an American League East foe.
Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Chris Davis combined to go 6-for-12 with two home runs, three walks, and seven runs batted in. Wieters’ two-run home run provided the early lead, Jones’ two-run double in the seventh put the Orioles back in front, and Davis’ three-run blast later that inning finished off Tampa Bay for good. You can’t ask for much more from the heart of the order.
Starting pitcher Jason Hammel pitched six solid innings and allowed only three runs despite being up in the strike zone for a good portion of the afternoon. The de facto ace earned his first victory of the season and was picked up by Troy Patton and Darren O’Day in the seventh and eighth innings.
All-Star closer Jim Johnson earned his first save in an uneventful ninth inning.
20-year-old third baseman Manny Machado picked up where he left off in the field last year with a couple smooth plays and collected a single and a walk hitting in the No. 2 spot.
Even Brian Roberts and Nolan Reimold, two players the Orioles are depending on to remain healthy this season, went a combined 4-for-8 at the plate.
The euphoria accompanying any Opening Day win aside, we know pennants aren’t won or lost in April except in the most extreme cases, but a victory in a game pitched by 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner David Price is one to put in your back pocket over the course of a 162-game schedule. Price didn’t factor into the decision, but the patience and tough at-bats put together by Baltimore hitters — including a 13-pitch walk drawn by Wieters in the third — pushed the left-hander’s pitch count to 100 through six innings and forced Rays manager Joe Maddon to go to his bullpen earlier than he wanted to with his ace on the mound.
The Orioles made life more difficult than it needed to be for themselves by going 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and leaving four runners stranded on second or third with Price in the ball game, but that’s as much a credit to the 27-year-old pitcher as any shortcoming of Buck Showalter’s lineup. Jones finally broke the 1-for-9 drought overall with runners in scoring position with the double off lefty Jake McGee, who relieved Price to start the seventh.
In three starts against Baltimore last season, Price was 2-0 and allowed one earned run and 13 hits in 22 1/3 innings. No player on the current 25-man roster had ever hit a homer against Price until Wieters launched one into the left-field seats to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead in the first inning.
The Orioles weren’t fazed by the power lefty, even after he threw four shutout innings against them in Sarasota last week. And they came away with a win in the first of 19 meetings with the Rays, who are regarded by most as a division favorite along with the Toronto Blue Jays this year.
Tueday’s victory is only one in a 162-game marathon, but it’s one you put on the positive side of the ledger that you typically wouldn’t expect to have when facing one of the best pitchers in the game. Of course, it means nothing if you don’t win the close games in which you have a chance, an area in which the Orioles excelled last year with their 29-9 record in one-run games, 16-2 mark in extra-inning affairs, and astonishing 74-0 record when leading after seven innings.
As we would have said had they lost 11-1 at Tropicana Field on Tuesday, it’s only one game. But it is one game just as important as the 161 to follow. And for what’s expected to be an extremely tight division race, Tuesday’s victory represents one the Orioles won’t have to make up in September.
It’s a new season and the improbable 2012 season is only a memory, but the Orioles have already come away with one that you would not have expected.
And that was a familiar feeling.