“I just think my mindset was to just really to set the tone for our team in front of a great crowd,” Arrieta said. “[There were a] lot of excited fans for a new season. I think that was important to come out and set the tone the way we did. I think as a whole, we take it personal that most people write us off from the get-go. I think we made a statement today. We’ve got a lot to play for this year.”
Arrieta, who struck out four and walked two, worked ahead of hitters throughout the day, mixing his mid-90s fastball with an effective slider and curveball. He also made several nice defensive plays, tallying four assists, including a 1-6-3 double play that ended the first and began a run of seven straight retired Twins.
Shelved last August with season-ending surgery to remove bone spurs in his pitching elbow, Arrieta was another great comeback story. No stranger to the spotlight — he threw six innings of one-run ball in a 5-1 win over Detroit in last year’s home opener — Arrieta again shined in the moment. He became the first pitcher in club history to go seven or more scoreless innings and allow two or fewer hits in an Opening Day start.
“He was really good,” Showalter said. “He pitched maybe a little better than he did last year in the same venue. I thought he kept his emotions under control, which is always a challenge with everybody. [He] trusted his fastball. It’s still his best pitch. I think all the pitchers will tell you that start time is a little bit of a challenge for hitters, but he commanded all his pitches.”
After right-hander Matt Lindstrom threw a scoreless eighth, Twins left fielder Josh Willingham hit a two-run homer to left-center-field off left-handed reliever Troy Patton with one out in the ninth.
That forced the Orioles to turn to closer Jim Johnson, who struck out the first hitter he faced in Doumit, but yielded a walk and single to the next two batters, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate. But Johnson induced a Trevor Plouffe grounder to short to end the game and convert his ninth straight save opportunity dating back to last year.
At least one game into the season, the Orioles — looking to reverse the trend of 14 straight losing seasons — are unbeaten. And one day into 2012, they send an excited crowd home happy.
“I’m an old fuddy-duddy,” Showalter said. “I get emotional a couple times today just seeing how much it means to the people in Baltimore. I’m not going to group everybody in baseball. This is different. They grow up with the Orioles. I'll be the first to tell you, it gives me a lot more responsibility, anxiety, delivering what they deserve — for all of us.
“And we know how great it can be here. And it's our responsibility. You've heard me say it 100 times — you see a game like that, you just hope that they keep that hope like we do. That atmosphere is special and I know it used to be like that every night. Our players, I know they get a taste of it. This group of guys talks about it. They know what this fan base is like and it’s up to us to tap deeper into it.”