Not really sure what to say about Monday’s 3-2, 11th inning Opening Day victory against the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards.
Except this is exactly why we wait all winter for this sport to return.
“I’ll have the windows down going about 5 mph down Pratt (Street) today. It’s great,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s one of those days you reach back for and realize why this is why you do what you do.”
Two evenly matched, well-coached teams with two starting pitchers battling, two bullpens dealing, two defenses playing well and then a walkoff homer in the 11th inning to end a 2-2 scrap.
That was the same scenario the last two times these clubs met for real — Oct. 4 at the Rogers Centre when Ubaldo Jimenez served up a game-winning homer to Edwin Encarnacion.
“It did seem to have a similar feel. I’m glad this one turned out in our favor,” said Mark Trumbo, whose 11th inning walkoff against Jason Grilli on Monday ended the Opening Day affair in a not-so-tidy three hours and 41 minutes.
But it was worth it for the announced crowd of 45,667.
It was also worth it for Trumbo, who signed a three-year deal in January to return to Camden Yards and, after not hitting a homer in a meaningless spring game, he smashed one when it counted. It was the sixth walkoff of his career and the Orioles first since Trumbo did it in the 12th inning against Arizona on Sept 23.
“Very special. It’s a whole lot of fun,” Trumbo said. “We battled tooth and nail today. That was a great game all the way around. I’m just happy to come through and take us home.”
We hear so many times that we shouldn’t read anything into spring training stats. I usually don’t. Especially when it comes to guys with track records. So, the fact Trumbo didn’t hit a homer in March was incidental, a fluke. Not that he needed to, but he proved it Monday.
Does winning an opener have more meaning?
The big question for me is whether Monday’s victory means more than any other regular season victory.
In the large scheme of things, no. It’s a 162-game season. This is a blip.
But when a club puts a together a dramatic victory against a division rival in front of a packed house, I do think it plants a seed. That this team has these kinds of wins within them. And I think that is a resolve that can be tapped into during similar situations later this season.
“I’d like to use it as a kickstarter,” Trumbo said. “It obviously would be really nice to build upon a solid outing like this. I think we did everything we were trying to do. Excellent pitching all the way around – starting, relief pitching — excellent defense and a few timely hits.”
Again, I’m not saying the Orioles are going to make the playoffs because of Monday’s win. That’s nonsense. But this is a club that has won every one of its season openers under manager Buck Showalter – seven straight since 2011 – and that’s not fully a coincidence.
He gets his teams to believe in themselves, to feel like its them against the world. And that’s a healthy attitude to have on Opening Day – any day, really. And when you can immediately go out and prove you can capture a tough contest against a quality opponent, that certainly sets the right tone.
I asked closer Zach Britton whether Monday was just one game, or whether it could mean more. His response: “I think that gives a lot of those (younger) guys confidence going forward. Trey (Mancini) coming in, getting a hit up the middle. That’s huge. That’s good for those young guys and for us. I think it’s always nice to start out with a win, especially when you play extra innings.”
Britton quickly dismisses last time
There were snickers in the press box in the ninth inning Monday when Britton entered a tie game to pitch against the Blue Jays. We all remember him sitting in the bullpen through the 11th inning while the Orioles lost last October.
At the time, Showalter decided he wasn’t going to use Britton unless the Orioles had a lead. That was on the road, of course. Showalter did use him Monday in a tied game at home.
Britton said he wasn’t thinking about last October at all when he entered in the ninth.
“I wasn’t thinking about it. I’ve turned the page on that a long time ago,” Britton said. “I was just hoping to keep the score where it was and give our offense a chance to score a run. I did it for two innings, then (Tyler) Wilson came in and did a great job, and then Trumbo there, that’s huge.”
Machado is simply unreal at third
If you watch a lot of Orioles’ games, you don’t need this particular observation.
Manny Machado is a tremendous defensive player. We all know it. Everyone with eyes knows it. And he showed why again in the 11th Monday, when he had to dive to spear a hard bouncer and then, on one knee, threw out speedy Devon Travis at first.
“What’s better, the play or the throw? Who else makes that throw? Nobody?” Showalter said.
Said Trumbo: “Each and every day (Machado amazes). Oh yeah. He’s the best in the business.”
Machado bent his left wrist back in making the play and grimaced directly after it. After the game, he had his left wrist and hand iced. But he shrugged it off as no big deal.
It’s hard to say where it ranks in the pantheon of great Machado plays. But it has to be up there. It’s just that there have been so many.
“That’s just another Monday for Manny,” said Toronto’s Steve Pearce, Machado’s old teammate. “He makes those plays all the time, and it then hurts when he does it against you.”
Davis’ defense, too
As Chris Davis struggled throughout the 2016 season, Showalter kept talking about how much Davis contributed to the team with his defense.
If you didn’t believe him then, believe him on Opening Day.
Davis made four really nice picks at first base on Monday, two that completed key double plays. And one that finished Machado’s ridiculous play at third.
He really has worked to become one of baseball’s best defensive first basemen.