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Schmuck: Orioles flip wild-card script on Blue Jays in opener

If the Orioles and their fans were looking for some kind of payback against a Toronto Blue Jays team that kicked them to the curb last October, Opening Day at Camden Yards could not have turned out much better.

This time, it was the Orioles who celebrated at home plate after a dramatic walk-off home run in the 11th inning. This time, it was the Orioles bullpen that held serve in a game that was eerily similar to the wild-card showdown at Rogers Centre that ended with manager Buck Showalter getting pilloried by the national media for not using closer Zach Britton.

What it wasn't, however, was a playoff game, something Orioles center fielder Adam Jones was quick to point out after the game.

"There's one big difference between that game and this game," Jones said. "That was the last game of the season and this was the first. It's completely different."

Point taken.

This was not a playoff game and it certainly did not wipe away the ugly memory of that frustrating October night, but it was more proof of just how evenly matched the Orioles and Blue Jays have been over the past three seasons.

"Both play to the last out," Jones added. "That's a tribute to the makeup of both teams."

The numbers don't lie. Since the start of the 2014 season, the Orioles and Jays are 29-29 in regular-season head-to-head competition. The tiebreaker, unfortunately for the Orioles, was last year's playoff game and it will be a while before anybody around here forgets Edwin Encarnacion's dramatic, heartbreaking three-run homer off emergency reliever Ubaldo Jimenez.

The score was the same throughout the late innings. In both games, Mark Trumbo hit a huge home run. In both games, the Orioles offense went to sleep for an extended period after taking a slim lead. In both games, a 2-2 tie hung precariously from inning to inning as the stress level went through the roof at Rogers Centre and through the rain clouds gathering ominously over Oriole Park.

"They had a lot of similarities," Showalter said. "Actually had the same home plate umpire (Gary Cedarstrom), not that I remember. I'll shut up. It does certainly seem that way. Stay tuned. We've only got 18 more? 19? 17? I don't know what it is. I try not to look at it."

There also were a few differences. Not only did Showalter use Britton in the game, he brought him in to start the ninth inning and left him in to pitch the 10th. In the wild-card game, Showalter did not turn to Britton in a jam in the ninth and then chose to use Jimenez in the 11th when he ran short of setup and middle relievers.

No sense rehashing that now. It was discussed to death for several days afterward and certainly replayed more than a few times in the mind of one of baseball's best bullpen handlers. Showalter had his reasons, but he couldn't escape the most obvious narrative.

There was one other big difference. Encarnacion is no longer with the Blue Jays, and their lineup did not seem quite so imposing without him or power-hitting designated hitter Michael Saunders, both of whom signed elsewhere.

The Orioles, meanwhile, were able to bring back Trumbo, and he delivered big time on the first day playing under his new three-year, $37.5 million contract.

In fact, all three of the Orioles' runs were driven in by the two big sluggers the team signed to rich contracts over the past two offseasons. Chris Davis drove in the first run of the game in the third inning with a shot off the right-field scoreboard. Trumbo came up right behind him and drove in the second with a double down the right-field line.

From that point, the next 15 Orioles hitters went down in order and the O's managed just three hits over the 26 at-bats leading up to Trumbo's big blast. In the wild-card game, the Orioles managed just two singles in their last 24 at-bats.

Showalter took a postgame question from a Toronto reporter, who asked if it was "weird" the way the two games seemed to line up.

"Weird?" Showalter said. "I don't know if weird is the word. I'd say appropriate."

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at

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