New York — From the moment the Orioles cleared out their baseball leadership group last October and installed a new one, the goal was to build an operation that could compete with a team like the New York Yankees for years to come — just not necessarily this year.
The Orioles' 7-2 loss Thursday before an announced sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium showed — as clear as this breezy Bronx day — exactly how long a road the 2019 Orioles have to travel, no matter how low the expectations might be.
Opening Day was a measuring stick for what the Orioles are against what they aspire to be. It just might require another stick.
"I look at it as a challenge," manager Brandon Hyde said. "I never back down from anything, and I think it's awesome, to be honest with you. It just creates great competition. I love — this is the atmosphere you want to play in, you know? This is what you want to feel on a nightly basis, and that's how you're going to get better. That's how you're going to be able to look in the mirror and see who you are as a player. ... We've just got to grow and get better."
Even if the baseball that followed was largely to Hyde's liking, Thursday's loss was fated pretty early, a confluence of poor batted ball luck as much as anything else. Over the course of a season, an inning like the first might even out, or sway, in the Orioles' favor.
Instead of hitting Jonathan Villar on his way to second base, Trey Mancini's ground ball up the middle might’ve missed the infielder's fast feet and given the Orioles a runner on third with two outs instead of ending the inning.
And instead of watching seemingly every batted ball against Andrew Cashner find its way to the outfield for a hit, the Orioles will likely make more outs by aggressively moving their infielders around the diamond.
But after Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton stung singles through the vacated right side of the infield against an aggressive pull shift in the first inning — with Stanton's hit over 120 mph off the bat — Luke Voit hit a towering home run to center field to put Cashner and the Orioles down 3-0.
"They found some holes against us today," Hyde said, noting that they'll take opposite-field singles from those behemoths any day. "Over time, that will go the other way, I would believe."
"It's tough," Cashner said. "As the game evolves, the shift kind of evolves. I guess the numbers kind of go more one way, and it is what it is."
Other than Voit's towering home run, Cashner allowed five hits that might not have registered against a straight-away defense. He also had two fairly simple double plays courtesy of the Orioles' infield positioning. The four walks didn't help, including the last two, which reliever Mike Wright allowed to score.
Cashner — who allowed six earned runs on six hits with four walks and three strikeouts in four innings — said he felt good otherwise, and Hyde said it was the best stuff he's seen from the veteran right-hander, who pitched on short rest Thursday to replace the initial Opening Day starter, Alex Cobb.
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Stacked up against this Yankees lineup, there wasn't much margin for error. The Orioles chipped away at the early deficit, but it's hard to put together the kinds of big innings the Yankees did without the big talents. Judge and Stanton were at the heart of everything the Yankees did offensively, the former reaching base and scoring three times and the latter reaching in his first three at-bats, too.
Mancini tried to be that kind of offensive force in the middle of the Orioles lineup, adding a single and scoring in the fourth inning on a single by Rio Ruiz, then doubling to score Dwight Smith Jr. in the sixth inning.
But the Orioles ran out a defense-first lineup that often looked like it. Three of their Opening Day starters were cut by their previous teams since the beginning of October: Smith, third baseman Ruiz and catcher Jesús Sucre. A fourth, Rule 5 shortstop Richie Martin, wasn't protected from that draft by the Oakland Athletics despite it being clear that someone would take him.
By comparison, Thursday's Yankees lineup had six All-Stars. Behind former All-Star Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees brought in three big-ticket relievers in Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton, and Aroldis Chapman. Hyde followed Cashner with two starters — Wright and David Hess — to save arms for Saturday's bullpen game. The only All-Star on the Orioles roster was Chris Davis, who struck out three times in three at-bats.
With a brimming farm system bolstered by internationally scouted talent, dozens of data analysts and strong pitching development all supplementing their expensive major league operation, the Yankees represent so much that new executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias wants to build in Baltimore, albeit on a budget.
On the long path toward that goal, the Orioles will have days like Thursday, where they're outmanned in a vaunted American League East and left staring at the duality that building an organization to fight with a team like the Yankees doesn't always equip them well to win that battle on the day in question.
"Look at our division," Mancini said. "There's great teams there. You're lying to yourself if you're saying differently, and we know that. But we're not going to go out and play scared or anything like that. We all see ourselves as Major League Baseball players, and that's what we are. So, we're going to go out there and play hard and try to compete with these guys."