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Opening Day spark Caleb Joseph casts Orioles as underdogs in his image after walk-off win

Orioles beat writers Eduardo Encina and Peter Schmuck talk about the O's win over the Twins on Opening Day. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun video)

On the eve of his second Opening Day start, in his fourth full season with the Orioles and his 10th full season in the organization, catcher Caleb Joseph stopped just short of ascribing too much meaning to what transpired Thursday.

But he came close, saying the assignment was almost "the accumulation of your whole career," one that has been defined by roadblocks and full of slights.

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On a team full of stars who begin the 2018 season knowing it could be their last in Baltimore, one that the longtime catcher said is full of players that have something to prove, it's Joseph who might best embody what this edition of the Orioles strive for.

Joseph, 31, broke a scoreless deadlock with a two-run triple to put the Orioles ahead in the seventh inning, and then laid down a sacrifice bunt as they failed to scratch across the winning run in the 10th inning in the team's eventual 3-2 win over the Minnesota Twins on Opening Day.

For both Joseph and the Orioles bats, Thursday was difficult sledding until their breakthrough seventh. Their only hits before Joseph's were a one-out double by shortstop Manny Machado in the first inning, and a leadoff single by left fielder Trey Mancini in the second inning.

They had just two other base runners before Mancini, who scored the first run if the game, struck out but reached on a wild pitch to open the seventh inning. He advanced to second on a second wild pitch in the inning by Twins reliever Zach Duke, and then Duke intentionally walked pinch hitter Danny Valencia.

After right fielder Craig Gentry battled through a long at-bat but eventually struck out, Joseph jumped on a first-pitch fastball on the outer half of the plate. It was a low line drive, and with center fielder Byron Buxton shaded toward left-center field and right fielder Max Kepler unable to cut it off, it rolled all the way to the wall. Joseph slid in for his third career triple.

"The thing that's tough about games like this is we all kind of dwell on the way it ended," manager Buck Showalter said. "We obviously didn't do a whole lot offensively against some very good pitchers, and in that twilight after the sixth or seventh inning, it's really hard to hit. Caleb's base hit there really gave us a good chance."

But that Joseph was in the thick of it, as the team's starting catcher with a chance to prove his theory that he can produce at an major league level with regular playing time, is the serious undertone on a day where all the Orioles, including Joseph, were able to ultimately laugh and smile.

Joseph joked about being ragged in the dugout after the two-run triple and about finally getting an RBI, even though it was 2016 when he didn't have a single run driven in before putting that to bed last season. He joked that he wanted to make the Twins outfielders pay for playing him shallow "like a Little Leaguer." And he kidded that it wasn't until the inning was over that he realized his league-leading first triple of the season had winded him.

This is a serious time for Joseph, though, and for the Orioles. And with Chance Sisco, one of the game's top catching prospects, breathing down his neck for playing time, Joseph will be a lot like the rest of the Orioles this year. He'll occupy the underdog status that everyone in the clubhouse feels suits them well, himself included.

"Whether you want to talk about it or not, we all know what goes on in the business," Joseph said. "You can't just turn a blind eye every time, right? There's a lot of people in this clubhouse that have a lot to prove, and you can go around and look at just about every guy, and everybody's got something to prove.

“When we collectively bring that in and harness it as a team, we can be pretty dangerous. We get picked last every year, and it is what it is. There's this kind of underdog mentality. I think the city embraces it. This is a blue-collar city, and we have blue-collar players here. Who knows what tomorrow is going to bring? But there's a cohesiveness and a togetherness that this team is featuring that maybe in the last year or two may not have been as tight. We've always had each other's backs, but this year, you can feel it in the air. You can feel it in the air. We really want to do it, and hopefully, we can have more days like today."

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