Orioles seem to have picked up where they left off
Opening Day comeback against favored Rays similar to last year's magical run
ST. PETERSBURG -- After shocking the baseball world in 2012 on their way to the postseason for the first time since 1997, there have been whispers the Orioles' amazing climb to second place was, well, a fluke.
Some say they might have been just plain lucky as they landed one of two American League Wild Card berths, not to mention performing their magic in the rugged AL East.
They came alive after finishing last in 2011, but during this past offseason, they made no major changes to their cast. Could the same band of warriors do it again?
So when the O's opened their season Tuesday afternoon, don't blame some of the skeptics if they were looking at Baltimore under a magnifying glass.
After all, the Tampa Bay Rays are the chosen team by many to not only win the East, but also not stop until they play in their second World Series.
Yes, it was just one game -- No. 1 of 162.
But as the Orioles stormed into the season with their 7-4 conquest of the Rays at Tropicana Field, it became obvious to these eyes 2012 might have been a prelude to bigger and better things.
The O's got strong pitching from starter Jason Hammel, awesome power from Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis, and the type of Opening Day they've been looking forward to since losing to the Yankees in the 2012 AL Division Series.
That it was going to be a less-than-happy opening for the Rays was evident before many in the sellout -- and festive -- crowd of 34,078 found their seats. With two down in the first inning, Wieters sent a David Price hanging changeup screaming to the seats in left field, and it was suddenly 2-0.
Yes, the David Price as in the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner.
The last time the left-hander allowed a first-inning homer was to the Yankees' Curtis Granderson on July 20, 2011.
"I really don't think I ever settled in in that game at all," said Price. "It's a very tough team. Giving them two runs in the first inning is something you try and stay away from."
Throughout Spring Training, the theme in the Orioles camp was not to skip a beat, to continue the momentum form 2012.
"We were excited," said winning pitcher Hammel, who allowed just three hits and three runs during six innings. "We know what's going on in the clubhouse. For all the things that happen outside the clubhouse, we don't care.
"We barely changed the team this year, so it's something we're proud of right now. We're going to continue to play hard. It was No. 1 of 162. We'll come back tomorrow and continue to do it."
It is important, however, to not get overly giddy after just one win. The way the O's handled the Rays was impressive, but Price and his teammates are going to win a lot of games during the marathon.
No one is able to put Tuesday in better perspective than Orioles skipper Buck Showalter.
"Not really that important," said Showalter. "I'm not one of those who says it is. How important is a Spring Training record? How important are offseason acquisitions for the most part? The season wouldn't have ended had we lost today, or if we lose tomorrow, or if we win.
"That's what I keep telling our players. This is a great group about staying in the moment and staying in reality.
"You look at the number of guys who missed time last year, we feel like if we can just keep our people on the field, we can be competitive."
The Rays, who had managed just two hits -- a Ben Zobrist first-inning single and fourth-inning homer -- off Hammel through five innings, pulled even in the sixth when Desmond Jennings doubled home Kelly Johnson. They jumped ahead, 3-2, when Jennings scored on Zobrist's sacrifice fly.
With Price finished -- he had thrown 100 pitches through six innings -- the O's bombarded reliever Jake McGee with five runs on four hits in the seventh.
There were two keys in that inning: Jones, who had doubled and singled off Price, ripped a two-run double to left-center that put the Orioles up for good, if only by one run.
But moments later, Wieters, who had walked and doubled after his homer, was intentionally walked to put runners on first and second. Davis then hit McGee's first pitch and it was 7-3 -- and over.
Just one game.
And that's also the way Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon viewed it.
"I thought we did a lot of really good things today," he said. "Our defense was fantastic -- and David Price getting through six innings without hit best stuff, yet coming out of the game with a 3-2 lead and 100 pitches. I thought all that stuff was really good."
Or as Showalter put it: "Today starts a long journey together, and I'm as curious as everybody else to see where it takes us."
Really, that's what Opening Day is all about.