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

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