Orioles carry the magic into Opening Day win over Rays

April 02, 2013|Peter Schmuck

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The same question followed the Orioles through a maddeningly uneventful offseason and a happily uneventful seven weeks of spring training.

Would the magic that carried them to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years survive the winter and carry over into 2013?

It's way too soon to tell, of course, but there was certainly a magical quality to Tuesday's 7-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in the regular-season opener for both teams at sold-out Tropicana Field.

The Orioles nicked up 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner David Price in the early innings and bludgeoned Rays reliever Jake McGee in a five-run seventh that broke the game open and got the O's off and running in their attempt to build on all the positive energy they generated a season ago.

To be continued ... indeed.

This was supposed to be a coming out party for the retooled Rays, who fell just short of the postseason last year and made some significant changes over the winter, but it ended up being everything that the Orioles and their fans could have hoped for on the first day of the rest of their baseball lives.

"It felt amazing,'' said winning pitcher Jason Hammel. "It felt like a playoff game to me. You get that hype. Opening Day is pretty much a six-month-early look at the playoffs. You get that type of energy from the fans, the adrenaline ... everybody coming in. It's exciting to play in a game that counts. Spring training was long this year. We came out fired up and played well today."

You want uplifting?

How about Hammel holding the Rays to three hits over six innings to get a win that, amazingly, was only his first in 32 career appearances in "The Trop."

How about Matt Wieters launching a stratospheric two-run home run in the first inning to puncture the aura of invincibility surrounding Price, who had surrendered just one run to the Orioles in 22 1/3 innings of work against them last year?

How about Adam Jones delivering a three-hit performance that included a come-from-behind two-run double, and Chris Davis putting the hammer down with a three-run homer that removed all doubt?

If that wasn't enough fun in the fake indoor Florida sun, how about the performance of comeback players Nolan Reimold and Brian Roberts? They contributed two hits each, and Reimold crashed the fence to make a terrific catch in left field.

"I'm not too old to take in what today meant for Nolan and for Brian Roberts and, for that matter, Ham ... Ham missed 76 games last year,'' manager Buck Showalter said. "And it was Manny Machado's first Opening Day. With things like that, you like to step back. I was asking myself after [batting practice] today, 'I wonder what's going through [longshot Rule 5 draftee] T.J. McFarland's head right now [in his first Opening Day]. ' That's why you do this, to kind of live through them."

There wasn't a huge orange-and-black presence in the ballpark Tuesday, but there were Orioles fans scattered throughout the sellout crowd of 34,078, thanks to the confluence of spring break and the regular-season opener.

It turned out to be worth the trip for Andrew Burns of Owings Mills and his two sons — Jared and Owen — who flew in just to see the beginning of a new season after the 2012 Orioles rekindled the family's romance with baseball. Burns said he wasn't concerned when the front office decided to come back with much the same ballclub that took the New York Yankees to the limit in October's American League Division Series.

"I think they're going to be competitive,'' Burns said. "I know a lot of people were giving them a hard time for not spending any money, but I love the young core — Matt Wieters and Adam Jones and Manny Machado — and I trust Buck."

The Burns family is heading right back home to attend the Orioles' home opener at Camden Yards on Friday. Susan Lilly of Ellicott City also took advantage of the school holidays to bring her two sons — Grant and Mason — to The Trop as part of a trip that also will include visits to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios.

Grant is 16, so last year was the first time he got to enjoy a winning Orioles season.

"I really can't remember the one before that, because I was eight months old,'' he said. "I thought last year was very impressive with all the extra-inning and one-run games. The bullpen was fantastic."

The bullpen was all but lost in the happy shuffle on Tuesday, but Troy Patton, Darren O'Day and Jim Johnson combined to pitch effectively through the final three innings and Johnson — who led the major leagues with 51 saves last year — got his first of this season with a scoreless ninth.

If this team looks too much like last year's for some tastes, no one in the Orioles clubhouse is bemoaning the fact that the suits upstairs didn't go out and get a Josh Hamilton or some other big bat or arm to help smooth over the rough spots in 2013.

"I think we just feel that we have, in house, the ability to do again what we did last year,'' Davis said. "We have the same group of guys. We have the experience that we didn't have last year. We're very confident with the group that we have, not to mention that we have such good chemistry. That goes a long way in this game."

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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