Ranking the Orioles' home-opener walkoffs - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Paul Folkemer

Ranking the Orioles’ home-opener walkoffs

Photo credit: Ty Lohr

When Adam Jones cranked the first pitch of the bottom of the 11th inning into the left-field seats Thursday, he delivered the Orioles’ third straight Opening Day walkoff win.

It was also the 10th home-opener walkoff in the modern organization’s 65-season history.

But was it the most significant home opener walkoff?

Here’s a closer look at all 10, ranked from least to most memorable.

No. 10: April 4, 2016 vs. Minnesota Twins

Final score: 3-2

Walkoff play: Matt Wieters single

Two years before Jones’ bomb beat Minnesota on Thursday, the Orioles topped the Twins with another Opening Day walkoff. With two outs in the ninth, Chris Davis walked, Mark Trumbo singled and Wieters poked a single up the middle to end it. Unfortunately, only a fraction of the announced crowd of 45,785 was left to see the end. The start of the game was delayed because of the threat of rain — though the skies stayed clear while the tarp was on the field — and once play started, the showers arrived in the second inning and forced another long hiatus. The game, scheduled to begin at 3:05, didn’t end until nearly 9 p.m.

No. 9: April 6, 1987 vs. Texas Rangers

Final score: 2-1

Walkoff play: Larry Sheets sac fly

To start an otherwise ugly 1987 season in which they finished 67-95, the Orioles were gifted a walkoff Opening Day win by sloppy Rangers’ defense. In a 1-1 tie in the ninth, pinch-runner Rene Gonzales was caught leaning off first base, but pitcher Greg Harris threw the ball away and allowed him to advance to third. A pair of intentional walks loaded the bases to set up Sheets’ sac fly. The real story of the game was the Orioles’ pitching; after the Rangers’ Oddibe McDowell led off the game with a homer, Mike Boddicker and Don Aase combined to blank Texas the rest of the way.

No. 8: April 17, 1964 vs. New York Yankees

Final score: 4-3 (11 innings)

Walkoff play: Russ Snyder single

Again, the Orioles’ walkoff was set up by a defensive mistake, which is a perfectly fine way to win a game, but it won’t have anyone doing cartwheels. The Orioles blew a 3-0 lead earlier in the game and headed to extras, where Yankees’ starter Jim Bouton began his 11th inning of work. After a leadoff single, New York shortstop Phil Linz committed a costly error that put two men in scoring position with nobody out. Snyder took advantage with an RBI single for the win. For good measure, the Orioles walked off the Yankees again the next day on a Brooks Robinson double in the 12th.

No. 7: April 10, 1970 vs. Detroit Tigers

Final score: 3-2 (10 innings)

Walkoff play: Brooks Robinson single

The Orioles’ 1970 World Series championship season got off to a promising start. After sweeping the Indians in Cleveland to start the year, the Orioles walked off their home opener against the Tigers. Detroit starter Mickey Lolich started the 10th in a 2-2 tie but got himself in trouble with a leadoff walk to Frank Robinson. Two batters later, the other Robinson doubled him in. That was the first of 14 walkoff wins for the Orioles that year, tied for the second-most in club history.

No. 6: April 3, 1989 vs. Boston Red Sox

Final score: 5-4 (11 innings)

Walkoff play: Craig Worthington single

Coming off a disastrous 54-107 season in 1988, the Orioles set the tone for their magical “Why Not?” season with a thrilling Opening Day win in ’89. The Orioles scored four times against Red Sox ace Roger Clemens — who, at 26, already had two Cy Youngs and an MVP award to his name – thanks, in part, to a Cal Ripken Jr. three-run homer in the sixth. With the game tied in the 11th, the Orioles struck relievers Bob Stanley and Mike Smithson, Boston’s fourth and fifth pitchers of the day, for a game-ending rally. Worthington’s single scored Mickey Tettleton for the first of 87 wins that year.

No. 5: April 2, 2001 vs. Red Sox

Final score: 2-1 (11 innings)

Walkoff play: Brady Anderson single

Twelve years later, the Orioles again walked off the Red Sox on Opening Day. They did it without the help of longtime ace Mike Mussina, who had started six of the Orioles’ previous seven openers but left for the Yankees in free agency after the 2000 season. His replacement, Pat Hentgen — a former Cy Young winner who was well past his prime — did his best Mussina impression with 8 2/3 innings of one-run ball, keeping pace with Boston ace Pedro Martinez. The Orioles bested reliever Derek Lowe in the 11th when Jerry Hairston doubled and scored on Anderson’s single.

No. 4: April 3, 2017 vs. Toronto Blue Jays

Final score: 3-2 (11 innings)

Walkoff play: Trumbo home run

The ’17 season opener in Baltimore brought a rematch against the Blue Jays, the team that beat the Orioles with a walkoff homer in the 2016 AL Wild Card game. The Orioles exacted a bit of revenge this time when Trumbo clubbed a game-ending homer off Jason Grilli in the 11th, the club’s first walkoff home run on Opening Day. It didn’t come close to erasing the memory of that brutal Wild Card loss, but it may have eased the sting ever so slightly.

No. 3: April 10, 1963 vs. Washington Senators

Final score: 3-2

Walkoff play: Jerry Adair sac fly

The Orioles’ first ever home opener walkoff, against the Senators in ’63, was one of their most dramatic. It was the only one that involved a multi-run comeback in the Orioles’ last at-bat. Senators’ starter Claude Osteen dominated the Orioles for eight shutout innings and carried a 2-0 lead into the ninth. But a Jackie Brandt leadoff homer, followed by a walk, chased Osteen from the game. Against relievers Steve Hamilton and Jim Hannan, the Orioles strung together two singles and a walk to tie the score before Adair’s bases-loaded sac fly ended it.

No. 2: March 31, 2003 vs. Cleveland Indians

Final score: 6-5 (13 innings)

Walkoff play: Gary Matthews Jr., single

Arguably the most bizarre Orioles’ opener ever, play was halted briefly by snow — but not before right fielder Jay Gibbons lost a fly ball in the flurries, leading to an early Indians’ rally. A back-and-forth game went into extras knotted at four; the Indians took the lead in the top of the 12th only for the Orioles to tie it on a passed ball in the bottom half. In the bottom of the 13th, an error by Cleveland reliever Jake Westbrook helped load the bases, and Matthews delivered the game-winning single when center fielder Milton Bradley broke the wrong way on his fly ball.

No. 1: March 29, 2018 vs. Twins

Final score: 3-2 (11 innings)

Walkoff play: Jones home run

OK, maybe I’m just ranking this first because it’s the game that’s freshest on my mind. I’m a simple guy that way. But there was something poignant about Jones, the Orioles’ emotional leader and face of the franchise, becoming the walkoff hero on his 11th straight — and possibly final — Opening Day in Baltimore. With one blow, Jones rescued what would’ve been a tough-to-swallow defeat in which the Orioles blew a two-run lead in the ninth. Plus, it improved Buck Showalter, also in the final year of his contract, to a perfect 8-0 on Opening Day with the Orioles. Not a bad way to kick off the 2018 season.

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16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Dblack2508

    March 31, 2018 at 8:14 am

    I was at 4 of these, I totally agree, last year Gausman didn’t look crisp . I don’t think the atmosphere last year was like it was on Thursday.

    • Dan Connolly

      March 31, 2018 at 11:00 am

      Definitely more buzz in the air this year. I think the signing of Cobb re-energized the fan base after a long winter. At least it did for a day.

  2. Boog Robinson Robinson

    March 31, 2018 at 8:16 am

    Happy 3rd Birthday BaltimoreBaseball.com !!

    Thanks for the past 3 years of great reads with my AM coffee. And thanks for keeping it FREE (especially the fake beer). I’m sure that in itself, has been a challenge. You’re the Best Dan , Paul, Steve, Adam, Joy, Dean & the rest of the growing crew.

    Go O’s!!

    Paul … where do you dig up this historical stuff? Wow, what an effort that must have been.

    • Paul Folkemer

      March 31, 2018 at 10:45 am

      Thanks, Boog. The game logs/box scores at Baseball-Reference.com are my go-to source for things like these, plus some googling to pull up additional details. And I attended four of these games, which helps!

    • Dan Connolly

      March 31, 2018 at 11:04 am

      Thanks so much Boog. Here is the crazy thing: Today is actually our second birthday — third season, but we didn’t actually start the site until March 31, 2016. Steve and I were talking about this recently. It seems, in one sense, like we’ve been doing this a lot longer — which I think is a good thing. Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting. And if you know anyone who wants to advertise on a great site (and can help keep the site free forever) let us know.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        April 1, 2018 at 9:32 am

        Sort of like the true start of the millennium I guess …

    • Steve Cockey

      March 31, 2018 at 11:32 am

      What Dan said :).

      Thanks a ton Boog and to everyone who reads, comments, and has helped make this such a fun journey. I never would’ve believed two years ago that the site and our community could grow this quickly.

      And any potential advertisers can email [email protected]. We offer plans that fit just about any budget. OK, shameless plug time is over :).

  3. Orial

    March 31, 2018 at 8:32 am

    Number one on Thurs? wow!

    • Dan Connolly

      March 31, 2018 at 11:06 am

      As Paul alluded, the now always seems to stand out more. But I think 10-20 years down the road we’ll still look at that one favorably.

  4. Raveonjo

    March 31, 2018 at 9:31 am

    Forgive me for being off topic, but I need to get this off my chest. After a long, gloomy winter, there’s nothing I’d like better than grabbing a seat in the sun to watch the O’s this afternoon. Instead, they’re waiting for the sun to go down and the winter-like night to take full effect before playing. In March, couldn’t they anticipate that an afternoon game would be so much more comfortable for the fans and players?

    • Dan Connolly

      March 31, 2018 at 11:07 am

      I hear ya. Although in one sense the players like night games better. Hitters anyway. Afternoon shadows can mess with hitting, Ive been told.

  5. Grand Strand Bird Fan

    March 31, 2018 at 9:59 am

    Great job researching opening day walkoff wins. I hooked school to go to my 1st opening day in 70. The only thing I remember was Palmer pitched and we won. Nice trip down memory lane.

    • Dan Connolly

      March 31, 2018 at 11:08 am

      Glad ya enjoyed it Bird.

  6. GSISDANNO

    March 31, 2018 at 11:26 am

    I would rank the 1989 opener as number one. Beating Roger Clemens after the miserable 1988 season was quite exciting.

    • Dan Connolly

      March 31, 2018 at 11:44 am

      That certainly would be in the discussion for me, too. Along with Thursday and the Snowpener

    • Raveonjo

      March 31, 2018 at 11:55 am

      89 was my favorite too. I seem to remember Clemens predicting the possibility of a no hitter, he had that little regard for the Orioles.

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