Orioles manager Brandon Hyde had visions of his team being aggressive on the bases, not because of the roster of runners assembled but because that might be the easiest way for his team to consistently score without the power of years past.
That philosophy began to manifest itself in a unique way in the sixth inning — with an extra base taken by plodding catcher Jesús Sucre — that put the Orioles ahead for the first time this season. That propelled them to a tense 5-3 win over the New York Yankees before an announced 42,203 fans at Yankee Stadium.
“As you see, we're not hitting a ton of homers, so it's going to be what we do on the bases,” said Hyde, who earned his first career win. “We have to really run the bases well, and I think Sucre surprised everybody with tagging up there. That just shows if you put pressure on defense and make them make plays, that good things happen. It worked out for us.”
Sucre singled up the middle in the sixth inning for just the second hit of the day against Yankees starter James Paxton (0-1), and was standing on second base after rookie shortstop Richie Martin looped his first career hit over first base to put two on with nobody out.
That's when the Orioles started running.
Jonathan Villar skied the next pitch to shallow center field. And Sucre — clocked by MLB's Statcast data as the fifth-slowest runner in baseball last season — challenged Brett Gardner and beat the throw to third by a step to get himself an extra base.
“I know Gardner, I know he's got a really good arm, but when I saw him coming back, I thought I had a chance over there,” Sucre said.
Said Hyde: “I saw him go back to tag, and I wasn't sure what he was going to do, to be honest with you. But it was a great baseball play.”
Sucre scored on a single through the right side by left fielder Dwight Smith Jr., which would have been nearly impossible from second with Aaron Judge's cannon of an arm in right field, and cleared the bases for the Orioles to keep running.
Martin and Smith executed a double steal, where Yankees catcher Gary Sánchez threw the ball into center field, and Martin scored easily for a 2-1 Orioles lead.
An inning later, Rio Ruiz doubled down the left-field line and scored on a line-drive single to the wall by Sucre to give the Orioles (1-1) a 3-1 lead.
In the home halves, four of the best arms on the Orioles' roster — Nate Karns, Jimmy Yacabonis, Miguel Castro and Mychal Givens — made the use of the "opener" strategy look good, even if it took until Givens' arrival for someone to make it look easy.
Karns got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first inning without allowing a run and passed it off to Yacabonis after a second scoreless inning. Yacabonis (1-0) allowed a run on three hits in three innings before Castro's two scoreless innings. And Givens was electric in striking out three Yankees in the eighth.
Richard Bleier allowed a home run to Troy Tulowitzki to jump-start a tense ninth inning, one that saw him charged with two runs before Mike Wright picked up his first career save with a pair of strikeouts.
Milestones for Karns, Bleier
While Bleier’s first appearance since his lat muscle injury June 13 didn't go as planned, Karns’ return to a major league mound for the first time since May 19, 2017 went far better.
“It was pretty big for me out there,” Karns said. “The first inning, I was like, 'What'd I get myself into?' That's not the way I kind of drew it up in my head. But it worked out. I'm proud of what I was able to accomplish over those two years of being injured, but it's not done yet. You've got to keep going right now.”
Karns said during spring training it wouldn’t feel like a milestone until he pitched in a major league game after almost two full years out with shoulder then elbow injuries. But his work wasn’t done simply when he threw his first pitch and Gardner flew out to center field for the first out of the first inning. Karns pitched two scoreless innings, walking three but allowing just one hit with one strikeout.
“You just want to put yourself back in that position,” Karns said. “I was very grateful to be in this opportunity and to kind of take it from there was just one pitch at a time. Everyone wants to go out there and throw that perfect inning and so on, but just take it as it came.”
Sucre flips script
Sucre came to the Orioles with a reputation as a defense-first catcher, but he has flipped that some in his first week of meaningful games with the team. He capped a three-hit, three-RBI day by doubling down the left-field line to score Joey Rickard and Cedric Mullins in the ninth inning for a 5-1 advantage over the Yankees (1-1).
Doing it without Davis
Even as the Yankees went all right-handed behind the left-handed Paxton with Adam Ottavino, Chad Green and Jonathan Holder, first baseman Chris Davis remained on the bench as an unused substitute.