Though there was no reason to expect the first weekend of the Orioles’ new era to be particularly enthralling, there was a surprising amount of suspense and entertainment value for a series between one of the very best teams in baseball and — by most accounts — one of the very worst.
The Orioles certainly looked the part during the early innings of Thursday’s season opener against the muscular Yankees, but they turned a bullpen game on Saturday into must-see TV with some ninth-inning drama and an uplifting first victory for new manager Brandon Hyde.
It was exactly the kind of game the Orioles needed to make a proper introduction of their rebuilding team, which will likely have a lot more games like Thursday’s loss. Hyde said all spring that he wanted his young guys to play with aggressiveness and abandon, which was very much on display as the O’s took a chunk out of the Yankees’ newly acquired left-hander James Paxton.
The O’s stole bases, pressed the action and produced runs in a way that the 2017 and 2018 versions of the team simply could not. Then they came back Sunday and produced runs the way they usually did during the Buck Showalter/Dan Duquette years, hitting three homers to win their first series against the Yankees since early last April.
That doesn’t mean they’ll be able to do it one way or the other every night, but the opening series could be a sign that they might be more fun to watch than your average low-expectation club. Here are some other reasons why:
Every night could be an ‘opening’ day
The “opener” strategy that the Orioles employed in the second game of the season was not really a strategy at all. It was a necessity after it became apparent that originally scheduled Opening Day starter Alex Cobb would have to be moved back to Thursday’s home opener.
Nevertheless, it had always been kept open as an option when Hyde was asked to speculate about his starting rotation during spring training. Cobb’s injury forced his hand a bit, but the outcome showed how starting the game with a reliever can alter the in-game strategy and improve the matchups during the middle innings.
The any-inning closer
There is no doubt that Mychal Givens is the most closer-like reliever in the bullpen, which is why Hyde used him in the eighth inning rather than the ninth Saturday and Sunday. The make-up of the pitching staff actually allows the Orioles to use an any-inning closer to handle the most pivotal, whether they come at the very end of the game or during what is traditionally a set-up inning.
Givens delivered a dominant performance in his 2019 debut, which had to be quite a relief in itself after he suffered through a very rough exhibition season. Then Mike Wright came on to bail out Richard Bleier in the ninth to get his first career save.
The new additions to the new edition
Despite all the head-scratching that took place during the final weeks of spring training over the demotion of some of the best-performing prospects, it made sense then and makes even more sense now. The O’s are fielding a team that has just enough experience to handle the daunting challenge of playing 17 of its first 20 games against opponents that won at least 90 games last year.
New general manager Mike Elias said he sent those kids down to get more minor league experience, but he also is shielding them from what could have been a confidence-eroding April. The Orioles might win only a handful of those games, but the late-spring additions that found their way onto the Opening Day roster are better equipped to keep such a potentially rough start in perspective.
The wisdom of signing Jesús Sucre
The Orioles had to wait quite a while for veteran catcher Jesús Sucre to settle his visa issues and arrive at spring training camp from his native Venezuela, but he was ready to go on Opening Day and was the major reason his new team was able to win Saturday.
Sucre showed how he can handle a pitching staff when he guided a big chunk of it through the Orioles’ first victory. The fact that he also drove in most of the runs with a three-hit performance was just a bonus. Apparently, no one told him that he wasn’t expected to hit.
Hyde has set the right tone
If Hyde is harboring any sense of foreboding about the difficult times that lie ahead, he has done a great job of hiding it. He has been upbeat all spring and very open about all the questions he cannot answer yet.
The relaxed atmosphere around the club has kept the players loose enough that they felt comfortable hoisting him into a laundry cart and showering him with beer and syrup after his first victory as a major league manager.
He probably never intended to be a YouTube star, but why not? If he succeeds in making this season a positive one for the players on his diverse roster, maybe the fans will come along for the ride.