BOSTON—On a day that was supposed to be about Trey Mancini’s triumphant return to baseball a year after colon cancer surgery, he shared his moment with another Oriole, who also was affected by cancer in 2020.
On an Opening Day pushed back a day by raw weather, John Means took the mound against the Boston Red Sox, allowed a single to Kiké Hernández in the first inning, then didn’t give up another hit in seven innings as the Orioles beat the Red Sox, 3-0, on Friday.
At game time, it was a chilly 37 degrees, but Means threw 97 pitches and retired his final 18 straight batters after Maikel Franco’s second-inning error allowed Xander Bogaerts to reach. Means struck out five and did not give up a walk.
“It was a really cool experience, something that I’ll be able to tell my kids forever,” Means said.
Mancini, who received applause from the 4,452 at Fenway, also accepted hugs from Boston catcher Christian Vazquez, first base coach Tom Goodwin and others.
“It means everything in the world to me,” Mancini said. “I’ve played against these guys for years, and you get to know them through that. It was really classy and really meant a lot to me.”
His last game before Friday came in Boston on September 29, 2019.
Mancini hit into double plays his first two at-bats, walked and scored on his third, and singled in his final at-bat.
“Once the game started, it felt a lot like my major league debut,” Mancini said. “There’s a lot of nerves, a lot of emotions that go along with the day. Then once the game starts, it all kind of went away.
“I think in years past, the way I started the game, grounding into two double plays, I might have let that spiral out of control, but I did a really good job today.”
Cancer has altered his perspective and encouraged others to share their stories with Mancini.
“There was a guy that said that his sister was battling colon cancer right now, and it meant a lot for me to be back playing for them,” Mancini said. “Interactions like that were so cool. Everybody here at Fenway was amazing here today.”
Manager Brandon Hyde felt uneasy before the game began.
“Opening Day is always a little bit heavy,” Hyde said. “You’re nervous. You have butterflies. I know it’s only one of 162, but it’s definitely a different feeling. It’s almost a playoff-style feeling before the game where you’re nervous, you’re anxious. You want to see what your team is going to look like, and then you add in all the things we had.”
One of those was Hyde’s decision to start Rio Ruiz at second base. A week ago, it seemed certain that Yolmer Sánchez would be the Opening Day second baseman, but he was released after the team acquired right-handed pitcher Adam Plutko.
Ruiz, who had all of two innings of major league experience at second, made a terrific running catch on Rafael Devers’ pop to shallow right in the second, another fine running catch on Marwin Gonzalez’s pop, ending the fifth, and an outstanding diving stab of Adam Verdugo’s grounder in the seventh.
“How about that? That was unbelievable,” Means said. “Those are two of the toughest catches you’re going to see made in a season. Those are not easy.”
After five scoreless innings, the Orioles scored two in the sixth. Pedro Severino led off with an infield single against Nathan Eovaldi. After Cedric Mullins struck out, Matt Andriese replaced Eovaldi and walked Mancini. Second baseman Kiké Hernández booted Anthony Santander’s grounder to load the bases.
Ryan Mountcastle’s two-run double off the Green Monster scored Severino and Mancini.
Mullins led off the eighth with a single and took second on Mancini’s single. Santander singled to right, scoring Mullins, but was out at second as Mancini was trapped in a rundown between second and third.
Tanner Scott walked two in his scoreless eighth, and César Valdez, who made an Opening Day roster for the first time at 36, allowed a two-out double to Bobby Dalbec, and earned the save.
It was a crisp game played on a bitterly cold day.
“I’ve played a lot of cold games here in April,” Mancini said. “It’s not ideal. Even though I went to Notre Dame, I still despise the cold. I do not like playing in the cold at all.
“I started the game without an undershirt on, and I quickly had to run in and put my undershirt on. I just couldn’t take it. It was cold, but everything was great today.”
Mancini realizes the grief Means had to deal with last season because of the death of his father to cancer in August. He made sure to share his day.
“It was a really special day for both of us,” Mancini said. “To be out there together, and I’m really proud of the way he performed today.”
Even though Mancini compared the day to his major league debut, it was more meaningful.
“When you hear you’re diagnosed with cancer, baseball was the last thing on my mind,” Mancini said. “Quite frankly, before I knew anything about the cancer, whenever the doctor told me, I thought I was never going to play baseball again.
“I made sure to soak it all in, no matter what happened today and just appreciate doing this for a living. I’m not every going to take that for granted.
“I’m a year removed from the diagnosis, going through six months of chemotherapy. A lot of things ran through my mind today, days where I couldn’t get out of bed, days where I was hunched over the toilet sick. It was all worth it, to be back here, to be back out here with the guys. It’s something that I can’t describe.”
No second-guessing Ruiz: Hyde was non-committal before the game about future starts for Ruiz at second.
“We’re going to see how it goes,” Hyde said. “He hasn’t had a whole lot of time at second base. He played there quite a bit this past week, got a couple of games in, a lot of work in the back field, a lot of work with [infield coach Tony Mansolino], getting to know second base.
“Bottom line is to try to get [Maikel] Franco, Ruiz, both their bats in the lineup the same day, especially against someone like [Nathan] Eovaldi. I’d like to have some left-handers in there against him. I think it’s going to be a decision on a daily basis. He’s going to play a lot, and today’s he’s at second base. We’ll see how it goes the rest of the way.”
Odds and ends: Hyde expects Shawn Armstrong, who’s on the paternity list, to rejoin the team for its series at Yankee Stadium, which begins on Monday … The taxi squad for the trip is: infielder Richie Martin, outfielder Ryan McKenna, catcher Austin Wynns and right-handed pitchers Travis Lakins and Isaac Mattson.