Jones keys Orioles' decisive rally at The Trop
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Orioles said throughout Spring Training they weren't concerned with outside expectations, projections or what national pundits thought of their incredible 2012 season. There was no need for manager Buck Showalter's crew to come out and make public statements or quote those who chalked up last year as a fluke for motivational fodder. In fact, there was no need for talking at all.
Instead, the Orioles -- proudly wearing T-shirts reading "To be continued" all Spring Training -- went out and proved it on Tuesday, rallying for a five-run seventh inning and using some solid pitching to make a strong season-opening statement with a 7-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. The Opening Day victory, in front of an announced sellout crowd of 34,078 at Tropicana Field, gave the Orioles their 10th win in the last 13 season openers.
"We know what's going on in the clubhouse," said Orioles starter Jason Hammel, who fired six strong innings to pick up the win. "For all the things that happened outside the clubhouse, we come out; we barely changed the team this year. Same lineup, except for a couple of guys.
"It's something we're proud of. We're going to continue to play hard. It was [No.] 1 of 162. We'll come back tomorrow and continue to do it. We're just having fun, and really, we have our own expectations."
While much was made this winter about the Orioles' decision not to acquire a true middle-of-the-order bat, the trio of Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and Chris Davis -- a group the organization hoped would continue to get better -- looked plenty potent, combining to go 6-for-12 with three doubles, two homers and all seven RBIs.
"We feel that in-house, we have the same ability to do what we did last year," said Davis, whose three-run homer capped a barrage of two-out runs off Rays reliever Jake McGee. "We have the same group of guys. We have the experience that we didn't have last year. We're very confident with the group that we have, not to mention the fact that we have good chemistry here. That goes a long way in this game."
Using the pass-the-baton approach that Showalter endorses, Davis watched from the on-deck circle as Rays manager Joe Maddon issued an intentional walk to Wieters, who had already doubled and hit a two-run homer off Tampa Bay ace David Price.
"You never want to be the guy [behind] the guy getting walks," said Jones, who got the seventh-inning scoring started by sending an 0-2 pitch into left-center-field field for a go-ahead two-run double. "It's like saying, 'All right; we think you're an easier out than this guy.' So you take it upon yourself to go out and get a big knock. And [Davis] went out there, first pitch, and tomahawked a 98-mph fastball at his neck. That's C.D."
The gutsy effort started with Hammel, who was making his first Opening Day start and held his own against Price, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner. Working with a two-run lead from the moment he stepped on the mound, thanks to Wieters' homer, Hammel battled all afternoon and allowed three runs on three hits and a walk.
"He wasn't really locating like I've seen him in the past," Wieters said of Hammel when told the right-hander said he felt like he 'did nothing' in the win. "It just shows what kind of competitor he is. He knew he didn't have his best stuff today, but he went out and gave us a chance to win, which is all you can ask of the starting pitching."
Hammel and Price both exited after six innings, with the Orioles tagging Price for two runs but missing a chance to capitalize despite accumulating seven baserunners after Wieters' homer. The O's were able to run up the left-hander's pitch count -- Wieters worked a 13-pitch walk in the third -- and chase Price after 100 pitches to set the stage for McGee.
The Orioles' bullpen, an impressive group largely intact from last season, made the lead built against McGee hold up. Lefty Troy Patton recorded an out in the seventh before Showalter played matchups and countered pinch-hitter Shelley Duncan with right-hander Darren O'Day. O'Day surrendered an earned run on a groundout in the eighth and went 1 2/3 innings before handing the ball to closer Jim Johnson, who earned the save.
Brian Roberts and Nolan Reimold, who both missed significant time last year with injuries, had two hits apiece, and the organization remains hopeful that high-profile offseason acquisitions weren't necessary due to the talent of those already wearing orange and black.
"Obviously, they could have easily gone out and tried to fill spots that haven't been necessarily occupied every day in the last year or two," said Roberts, who hasn't played a full season since 2009. "They held tight and they believed in us as players, and I think that is encouraging as well as gives you a lot of confidence to go out there and play."
"It's something we looked at," Showalter said of adding a middle-of-the-order bat this winter, "but you look at the number of guys who missed time last year. If we can just keep our people on the field, we feel like we can be competitive. But we have a lot of bridges to cross. Today starts a long journey together, and I'm as curious as everybody else to see where it takes us."