It was a beautiful afternoon at Camden Yards and — though they weren’t visible in the bright daylight — the planets obviously were aligned just right for the Orioles in a very dramatic and satisfying Opening Day victory over the Minnesota Twins.
They just weren’t aligned in the order anyone could have expected.
This was very much a microcosm of the 2017 season in reverse. The O’s got a terrific seven-inning performance from Dylan Bundy, who now appears to have a lot of backup in the club’s new-look starting rotation.
The only hiccup in a very well-pitched game came from the consistently solid bullpen, when closer Brad Brach allowed a pair of runs on a couple walks and a pair of quirky hits and could not get out of the ninth inning.
Adam Jones would make it all better in the 11th inning with his dramatic walk-off home run off Twins closer Fernando Rodney, but on a day when most of the power-packed lineup remained docile, a handful of unsung heroes held the afternoon together until that final heart-stopping moment.
Buck Showalter was grilled before the game about his decisions to bat slugger Chris Davis leadoff and start utility outfielder Craig Gentry in right field, but he didn’t have a lot of explaining to do afterward.
Gentry might not be the type of player you expect to see in an Opening Day starting lineup, but it was just another example of the emphasis Showalter puts on tight defense, and it turned out to be another example of the managerial magic that Showalter has been working throughout his Orioles tenure.
The first batter of the second inning — Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario — launched a ball off Bundy that was headed over the right-center-field fence until Gentry streaked across right field and made a heroic leaping grab to bring the ball back into the park. He would make a couple of other important catches, because every catch is important in a game that remains scoreless until the seventh inning.
Davis did not make a similar impact either at the plate or on the field, but that again fit the flipped script narrative in which the little guys were actually the big guys.
Davis, Jonathan Schoop, Jones before his walk-off, Trey Mancini and Tim Beckham combined for just one hit. Catcher Caleb Joseph, the guy who did not drive in a single run during the entire 2016 season, delivered the Orioles’ only meaningful swing in the first 10 innings.
He came up after the O’s finally got two runners on base in the same inning on a strikeout-wild pitch and an intentional walk and stroked a line drive to right-center that rolled all the way to the fence. By the time anybody tracked it down the Orioles were up 2-0 and Joseph was gasping for breath at third base.
Even as Thursday’s game turned the club’s 2017 karma on its head, there were some eerie similarities with last year’s season opener.
The score was the same. So was the length of the game. The O’s defeated the Toronto Blue Jays, 3-2, in 11 innings and also won it on a walk-off homer — that one by Mark Trumbo. If you want to cue the theme from “The Twilight Zone,” the game time temperature of both games was 65 degrees.
Jones didn’t reach base in his first four at-bats, but he didn’t have time to think about any of that when he came up for the fifth time. He hit the first pitch of the final half-inning and there was no doubt where it was going to land and what it was going to accomplish. All of the twists and turns that came before it no longer mattered.
“It doesn’t matter how it comes, as long you win the game at the end of the day,’’ Jones said. “It was a beautiful game. Obviously, we wanted to win it in nine, but I can’t see anybody that complains about a win no matter how long it takes you to get it.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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