Bullpen, Wieters’ walk-off single lift Orioles to Opening Day win
— The leading concern surrounding the Baltimore Orioles entering the regular season was whether its rotation, which finished near the bottom of the American League in ERA a year ago, would experience a rebound campaign in 2016.
Two members of the projected rotation—ace Chris Tillman and rookie Tyler Wilson—provided confidence that the group is headed in the right direction as the pair worked around a pair of lengthy rain delays to throw a combined five shutout innings and hand a tworun lead over to one of the league’s more dominating bullpen back ends.
The pen’s efforts, combined with a ninth inning, walk-off RBI single by catcher Matt Wieters, delivered the Orioles a thrill-
ing 3-2 Opening Day victory over the visiting Minnesota Twins on Monday before an announced sellout crowd of 45,785 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Batting with the game tied, two men aboard and two outs in the final frame, Wieters laced the first pitch he saw from reliever Kevin Jepsen back up the middle to score Chris Davis from third base. The game-winning single, which followed a walk by Davis and a base hit by newcomer Mark Trumbo — his fourth single of the day — secured the Orioles’ victory in a game that was delayed for a combined two hours and 51 minutes.
“It’s a nice win,” Wieters said. “You want to win the first one especially, but to sit around here as much as we did today, it’s a much better feeling going home with the win.”
The contest entered its ini- tial rain delay just prior to first pitch, lasting one hour and 41 minutes. Tillman, who became the first Orioles pitcher to make three consecutive starts on Opening Day since Mike Mussina from 19982000, began the contest by throwing two perfect innings before a steady downpour delayed the game again—this time for 70 minutes.
The 6-foot-5-inch righthander struck out five of the six batters he faced, including striking out the side in the second inning. He finished having thrown just 22 pitches, including 17 for strikes.
“I felt good. The [fastball] was there from the get go and I was able to mix things in as the game went. It was only two [innings] so I didn’t get a good feel for it, but it felt pretty good,” Tillman said. “It was frustrating [that the start was cut short]. I don’t like it one bit but you know what? It happened and both teams had to deal with it and you move on.
“I believe [it can set a tone]. I don’t see why it couldn’t,” Tillman added. “I feel like it’s the same stuff I carried all spring and I did nothing different.”
The start proved to be step in the right direction for Tillman, who regressed last season with an 11-11 record and a 4.99 ERA after an All-Star campaign in 2014.
“That’s the best stuff I’ve seen him carry,” Wieters said of Tillman. “He’s had plenty of big games for us but stuff wise, especially on Opening Day, that was as good as I’ve seen him.”
Wilson, who is expected to be the rotation’s fifth starter through the first month of the season, scattered two hits and recorded his firstcareer strikeout over three innings of work in relief of Tillman. His outing kickstarted a train of arms out of the Orioles’ bullpen that featured five different relievers and ended when closer Zach Britton (1-0) picked up the win following a scoreless ninth inning.
Wilson allowed a leadoff double to open the third inning but settled down by re- tiring the next three batters he faced.
“Wally [Dave Wallace] and I sat down and talked about the “what ifs” and we felt that Tyler was best equipped for the situation,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “That’s one of the reasons why we like Tyler. We talked about it a lot in the spring. A lot of guys, a leadoff double after Chris was pitching so well would have let it get away from them. Some of the key outs in the game there was not letting them get a lot of momentum going. Fortunately, we had a full bullpen and some potential starters that were there.”
The win marked the sixthstraight Opening Day victory for the Orioles (1-0), who initially took the lead in the fifth inning when center fielder Adam Jones drove in two runs on a double to deep center against reliever Casey Fien. Rookie left fielder Joey Rickard (2-4) and third baseman Manny Machado both scored on the hit.
The Twins (0-1) tied the game in the bottom of the seventh inning when Eduardo Escobar delivered an RBI-double to right field off Mychal Givens, scoring Eddie Rosario and pushing Byung Ho Park, who reached on a hit by pitch, to third. Kurt Suzuki then plated Ho Park on a sacrifice fly to foul territory in deep left field off newly-entered pitcher Brad Brach.
“It was a challenging day emotionally,” Showalter said. “There were a lot of emotional swings in the pregame and that’s part of Opening Day. And a lot of people, most of all our fans, have put a lot of time and effort into making this a special day and we didn’t want to let them down, by not only winning the game but trying to present what Opening Day is supposed to be about.
“I think if you ask all of them what they want Opening Day to be about, it would be the Orioles winning. That was key to a good Opening Day for all of us.”
Follow Jordan Schatz on Twitter: @Jordan_Whig