I woke up disappointed today, and not for the usual reasons. Last night’s Orioles regular season opener in Tampa reminded me of why I love to watch baseball. The Orioles looked impressive at times, building an early lead off of solo shots from Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Luke Scott. They held that lead through strong pitching performances. That is, until new closer Mike Gonzalez came on and let the lead slip away. The Rays only led once last night, but it was when it counted. Carl Crawford’s walkoff double sent the tepid Tampa crowd (did they even approach a sellout?) home happy and left Orioles fans wondering if 2010 will be just like 2009, 2008, 2007, 200…you get the point.
Here are my morning after impressions of the Opening Day loss.
Mr. Jones’ big day out
James Shields has a nasty arsenal, no doubt. But while he blew through most of the Orioles lineup, he couldn’t handle Adam Jones. Jones hit a hard double in his first at bat and a home run on a full count the second time around. The young centerfielder saw eight thousand pitches before clobbering one to right-center. Jones ended Shields’ day in the seventh by legging out an infield single to start the inning.
Wieters holds down the fort
Matt Wieters fielded a rocket from Nick Markakis in the third inning to nail Dioner Navarro, ending the inning. Sure, Markakis threw the ball perfectly to the plate, and Navarro is one of the slowest players in the AL. Still, Wieters stood his ground with 220 lbs barreling down on him. Plenty of catchers would have simply lunged a glove in Navarro’s general direction. Wieters was ready to pounce on Pat Burrell in the fifth inning, too, but Felix Pie’s throw from left was off the line.
Kevin Millwood, five up, one down
Millwood threw 92 pitches over 5 innings, giving up 1 run and striking out an average of 1 hitter per inning. He’s not the prototypical ace, but he is an upgrade. He controlled the tempo of this game and dealt in an out of the strike zone. So why did he come out for the sixth inning, during which he gave up a ginoromous home run to Evan Longoria? My guess is Millwood told manager Dave Trembley he was good for one more inning. He wasn’t, but it that situation Trembley is going to side with the veteran.
Matt Albers pitched 1.1 scoreless innings, helping to stabilize the defense after Millwood got the hook. Will Ohman looked solid in his first inning as an Oriole. He didn’t give up any rocket ships. Maybe he can make us forget about Jamie Walker. Jim Johnson pitched admirably in his set-up role as well. The club wanted one inning from Millwood, but they got three solid innings from their ‘pen.
Tejada gets hot at the corner
Miguel Tejada made his regular season debut at 3rd base and he aced his first field test, nailing a couple of runners with his cannon arm. He looked a little awkward fielding balls off the hop, but the idea of moving him to third where his diminishing range will mean less and his rocket arm will mean more looks like it could be a winner.
Cold corners at the plate
There is a reason Nolan Reimold is fielding balls at first base. The Garrett Atkins signing was low risk. It might not be high reward. He went 1 for 4 at the plate in his Orioles debut but looked like he was pressing in early at bats. Opening Day jitters? It’s hard to say. But a starting first baseman should not be hitting eighth in a major league lineup. Indicators suggest that Atkins could end the season on the bench if he doesn’t hit early in the year. Miguel Tejada went 0 for 5 in his return to orange and black. He smoked a ball to left with the bases loaded but hit it right to Carl Crawford. Miggi also hit into a double play. He is not a prototypical cleanup hitter, and he’ll be moved down in the lineup if he continues to GNDP while guys like Wieters, Jones, and Scott bomb away.
Gonzalez blows the opener
Things were cruising along for eight and a half innings until Mike Gonzalez came out for the save. Slinking around with a very off-kilter delivery, Gonzalez gave up the walk off, and Tampa’s fans went home happy. Tampa didn’t lead until the walk off, but that’s when it matters. The Gonzalez signing was a bit of a mystery. In 80 appearances last year, Gonzalez had 10 saves. Andy MacPhail signed him to a big money two-year contract, so he’ll get his chances to save. But his first performance as an Orioles certainly didn’t inspire confidence.
The beauty of baseball, of course, is that we don’t have to sit around talking about a game for a week in between live action. The club will take on Tampa Wednesday night, putting Jeremy Guthrie on the mound against Matt Garza.