The Orioles opened another promising season with a group of mostly familiar faces jogging down the orange carpet as part the pageantry of Opening Day
There's no doubt that Opening Day is different from a normal summer game day, filled with buzz surrounding the beginning of a new season, but ultimately the game itself bears the same weight of any other.
Still, as the Orioles' season opener against the Toronto Blue Jays reached extra innings Monday, there was an echo of last October, when the Blue Jays ended the Orioles' season in a wild-card game decided by one swing.
This time, however, the Orioles were the team celebrating a walk-off victory, after newly re-signed slugger Mark Trumbo's 11th-inning home run delivered a 3-2 win in front of a sellout crowd of 45,667 to kick off the silver anniversary season of Camden Yards.
Even though this was just one victory, it carried a slightly different magnitude inside the Orioles clubhouse.
"It's important," said Trumbo, who deposited a 1-2 slider from Blue Jays right-hander Jason Grilli into the left-field stands to end the game. "They're all important. This is a division rival. There's no secrets. We can't let it slip away. You do what you can to battle."
The Orioles have won seven straight Opening Day games and 14 of their past 17 openers.
"I'll have the windows down going about 5 mph down Pratt [Street] today," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It's great. It's one of those days you reach back for and realize why this is why you do what you do. … Unfortunately, it doesn't always cooperate with you on the scoreboard, but today it did."
The Orioles' front office spent most of the offseason trying get more mileage out of its power-driven batting order. Despite an offense that led the majors in home runs last season, the Orioles were middle of the pack in runs scored (12th in the majors), mostly in part because of a team on-base percentage that ranked in the bottom third (21st).
They focused on getting better on-base catalysts, and also tried to get better defensively at the corner outfield spots. But the team's biggest and most substantial offseason priority was retaining Trumbo — who was coming off his best season, leading the majors with 47 homers — because he best fit what the Orioles have become, a team that will at the end of the day win and lose by the long ball.
It took a while, as the Orioles re-signed Trumbo to a three-year, $37.5 milllion deal just three weeks before the beginning of spring training.
Trumbo went through a slow spring, going homerless in 55 Grapefruit League plate appearances and hitting just .212. But there was never any real reason to worry that Trumbo wouldn't produce once the season started, Showalter said.
"Can you imagine me walking about to Mark after hitting  home runs last year [when we're] down in spring training [and saying], 'Mark, what's wrong with your power?'" Showalter said. "He'd give me that, 'Really?' He hit some in BP. It never even crossed my mind. It really didn't. He's really evolved as a hitter. He knows who he is."
On Monday, under the bright spotlight of Opening Day, Trumbo — who said he prefers the routine of the regular season to the hoopla of the season opener — was the club's most productive offensive player, hitting an RBI double before his game-winning homer in the 11th.
"Very special," Trumbo said. "It's a whole lot of fun. We battled tooth and nail today. That was a great game all the way around. I'm just happy to come through and take us home."
Last year's wild-card game, which was lost on Edwin Encarnacion's three-run walk-off homer in the 11th, was a microcosm of the Orioles' strengths and weaknesses. Their only two runs came on Trumbo's two-run homer, and they had just two singles after that.
Monday's game had the same feel. After Trumbo's RBI double in the third inning, the Orioles had just three singles in their next 26 plate appearances going into Trumbo's final at-bat.
"It did seem to have a similar feel," Trumbo said. "I'm glad this one turned out in our favor."
Whether those long lags of offensive struggles also have something to do with both teams having strong bullpens — the similarities between how the teams are built are many — but the Orioles' powerful lineup has struggled to score runs at times when they don't homer as frequently.
Still, they have a weapon unlike most teams: the ability to win a game with one swing throughout their batting order.
"They have a great team, too," Trumbo said. "So a lot of things could happen. The pitching on both sides was really, really good. That's why you see some of these games keep progressing like that. But we have a lot of confidence that, if we get enough chances, we'll be able to do some damage."