There was supposed to be a feel-good ending to the first weekend of baseball in Baltimore since last year’s surprise playoff run — a pronouncement to all the doubters that this club is for real and ready to knock around with the big boys of the American League East again.
There were glimmers of that premise this first week, with Chris Davis looking like a pumped-up version of Robert Redford’s “The Natural,” and center fielder Adam Jones piling up more hits than outs through the season’s first week.
There were also plenty of reminders that the baseball season won’t be continually pleasant, even if a division title is within reach.
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Suddenly, the high-flying Orioles, who started the season winning three of four, head to Boston and New York as losers of two straight and with injuries mounting. Outfielder Nolan Reimold left after the sixth with right hamstring tightness, and reliever Luis Ayala had to be taken to the hospital because of an illness that prevented him from flying with the team to Boston. He headed to Boston later Sunday night.
“Obviously, you could be 6-0, you could be 0-6. You could be 4-2; .500,” Jones said. “We’ve got 156 to go. It’s a long season, so you got to get on the plane. Get back on the road and play baseball.”
Jones, who finished Sunday’s game with a league-leading .538 average in 26 at-bats, served a prominent role in the loss to the Twins. He scored the first run in the Orioles’ three-run second that included a two-run homer by J.J. Hardy.
In the third, Jones inadvertently helped bring the Twins back when he failed to catch a bases-loaded, two-out fly ball. He lost it in the sun, and by the time he could let Reimold know he was in trouble, the ball dropped between the two. And two runs scored.
“It went in the sun and I missed it,” Jones said. “Could have got around it better. Mistake. Cost us a couple runs.”
That one was easily forgivable, but twice the normally hard-charging Jones failed to sprint out of the batter’s box — getting some ire from fans.
It may have cost the Orioles in a one-run game in the eighth when Jones hit a comebacker to pitcher Jared Burton, and then dropped his head and jogged to first. Jones didn’t realize that the ball had bounced off Burton’s glove and the pitcher had to rush to get the out at first.
“It’s all my fault pretty much on that at-bat — at every level,” Jones said. “You know me, I give max effort and I didn’t give it on those instances and those are the kinds of things that frustrate me. If I struck out four times I wouldn’t be bothered by it. But the lack of effort on my behalf, that’s the thing that frustrates me.”
There also was a perceived lack of effort on the final out, when Alexi Casilla grounded out to second but barely ran up the line and was booed by some in the announced crowd of 34,431. Casilla said he broke his bat on the swing and a shard of it traveled behind him.
“I thought that was the ball going back,” Casilla said. “I looked up and didn’t see nothing, and then I saw the ball going to second. And it was too late.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter, a stickler for playing the game the right way, would not bite when asked about the club seemingly in an early-season malaise Sunday.
“Casilla never saw the ball. He thought it was popped up straight behind him,” Showalter said. “Jonesy’s one of the best in the game at [hustling], so I’m not going there at all. Talking about the ball that was in [the] sun? There’s nothing let-down about that. It’s a ball in the sun. It happens.”
Starter Jason Hammel also was not at his best for a second straight outing. In the season opener, he lasted six innings for the win. On Sunday, he went deeper — 6 2/3 innings — but allowed four hits, three walks and hit two batters while giving up four runs. He was clinging to a 3-2 lead in the seventh when he allowed an RBI sacrifice fly and then a run-scoring single by Aaron Hicks, who was 1-for-25 before that at-bat.
“It comes back to fastball command. I have not been locating my fastball the way I should be,” he said. “I felt like I made some good pitches when I needed to. I just got to learn how to close it out in the seventh.”
The Orioles have taken the first lead in all six of their games this season, but lost three of them by one run. Last year, the club was a remarkable 29-9 in one-run games, winning three of their first five in that scenario. This year, they are 0-3 in games decided by a run.
“We still can be 29-9 [in one-run games]. I think the numbers can happen like that, can’t they?” Jones said. “It’s a long season, man. It’s the first week of the season. Everybody will catch their breath and now the real long haul of the season is about to start.”
The Orioles play in Boston on Monday afternoon against a Red Sox team that won four of six on the road against division rivals the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees. The Red Sox pummeled the Blue Jays 13-0 on Sunday.
“It’s important. You’ve seen the last couple days. You look on the scoreboard today. They had 13 runs and they put them up quick, too,” Jones said. “We’ve got to go out there — we have got [Wei-Yin] Chen throwing tomorrow, I believe — and spoil their Opening Day. … When you can silence 40,000 people, it’s pretty cool.”
The Orioles had momentum heading into their own home opener Friday. Now they have to re-establish that as they go to Fenway Park. But Hammel said this team proved in 2012 that they could take some bruises and keep fighting.
“Last year, we started off 3-0 and then we lost three straight to the Yankees. So it's not new territory,” Hammel (1-1) said. “We're right where we need to be, playing tight ballgames, as usual. Boston's going to be ready for us when we get there. It's a series loss [against Minnesota], but there's still plenty of baseball left.”