The Orioles’ home opener qualifies as an unofficial holiday in Baltimore, so the gloomy fog and threat of rain that loomed over Camden Yards on Friday afternoon did little to take away from the anticipation of a new season, especially after a division title in 2014.
That energy, however, quickly left Oriole Park as Orioles starter Bud Norris was roughed up early and often in a deflating 12-5 loss.
As the Orioles (2-2) played their first game this year in Baltimore as reigning American League East champions, Norris opened his season with his worst outing as an Oriole. Unable to record an out in the fourth inning, he allowed eight runs, his most in three seasons.
“He just never got into rhythm like he's capable of,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Everything they put the bat on found the hole. Obviously, they hit some balls hard, too. It was one of those days. We all know Bud is capable of better. It will happen. It wasn't there today, for sure.”
Norris struggled this spring, posting a 9.26 ERA in four Grapefruit League game starts, but Showalter expressed confidence that the Norris who won a career-high 15 games last year would emerge once the regular season started. And the Blue Jays, a team Norris went 4-0 with a 1.78 ERA against in five starts last season, seemed to offer him a perfect chance to find his groove.
But Norris’ regular-season debut was a struggle from the start. Despite throwing first-pitch strikes to five of the first six hitters he faced, five of those batters reached base and four scored.
“You make 30 starts, you’re going to have a couple outliers that just aren’t good,” Norris said. “On paper, they’re just not good. I hope this is just my one today. I want to extend my stuff in every game I get and get as deep as I can, but today, balls just fell in. I had a lot of guys pick me up and pat me on the butt and say, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ That’s the clubhouse we have, so I’ll get back to work and get back at it tomorrow.”
The ardor around the Orioles’ home opener was unmistakable. Once the gates opened three hours before first pitch, fans flooded into Camden Yards. They roared as Hall of Famer Jim Palmer threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Rick Dempsey. As players were introduced to cheers, they ran onto the field and down an orange carpet as fireworks went off above them.
But the game didn’t match the hoopla. The good vibes faded early when the Blue Jays (3-1) took a 4-0 first-inning lead against Norris in a 36-pitch first inning.
Despite tallying 13 hits, the Orioles had few highlights. Center fielder Adam Jones tied a career high with four hits and drove in two runs, including one on his first home run of the season, a solo blast off Blue Jays starter Mark Buehrle in the third inning. Jonathan Schoop also hit a solo homer in the ninth.
“We got beat; we didn’t lose,” Jones said. “We didn’t go out there and give it away. We put up an effort, we put up a fight. And got  hits — I’ll take that.”
But otherwise, there wasn’t much for the announced sellout crowd of 45,936 to cheer about. The 12 runs are the most the Orioles have allowed in a home opener since the first game of the team’s disastrous 0-21 start to the 1988 season, a 12-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Memorial Stadium.
“You always want to win the home opener,” said first baseman Chris Davis, who returned from a 25-game suspension to record two hits in his first home game since Sept. 4. “You have a good crowd. Everybody’s going to be fired up. To not just lose, but to get beat up, it’s tough. But we can still salvage the series.”
The Blue Jays’ two run-scoring hits in the first inning — Jose Bautista’s RBI single to right field and Dioner Navarro’s slap double down the left-field line — were seeing-eye, opposite-field hits. Edwin Encarnacion also added a sacrifice fly against Norris.
In 28 starts last season, Norris had just one outing of less than four innings: a two-inning stint against the Chicago Cubs in August for which he didn’t return after a lengthy rain delay at Wrigley Field.
On Friday, Norris was yanked after loading the bases three batters into the fourth inning against the bottom third of Toronto's batting order. All three base runners scored against right-hander Brad Brach. The eight runs charged to Norris were his most since allowing nine on July 20, 2012, while pitching for the Houston Astros.
The Orioles had their early opportunities against Buehrle, who became the fourth active pitcher to record 200 career wins, joining Tim Hudson, CC Sabathia and Bartolo Colon. But they couldn’t break through against the crafty left-hander, who allowed two runs on eight hits over six innings.
Trailing 4-1, the Orioles loaded the bases with two outs in the second inning, but Everth Cabrera slapped a line drive to right field that caught too much air and was caught by Bautista. They also put runners at the corners with one out in the third, but Delmon Young hit into a 5-4-3 double play.
“Any loss hurts, but sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the magnitude of the very first one,” catcher Caleb Joseph said. “Hopefully, the fans turn out for the 80 [home games] that are left. I’m sure they will, but it’s one of those days where everybody was excited, and it was definitely a letdown, but hey, it’s one of 162. We’ll come back and strap it on tomorrow and be ready.”