O's prepared to 'answer the bell' after G1 loss

The Orioles are in an early hole in the ALDS, but they've proven resilient all season

October 8th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- After nine years of waiting, an extra hour and 13 minutes wasn’t going to dull the excitement of Orioles fans Saturday afternoon. Even after a rain delay, Baltimore was buzzing, with 46,450 packed into Camden Yards for the ballpark’s first postseason action since 2014.

The orange towels were constantly waving. The “O” was screamed during the national anthem, fittingly sung by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Joan Jett, an Orioles superfan. Every person was either standing or on the edge of their seat as Game 1 of the American League Division Series got underway.

A little more than three hours later, it was the exact opposite vibe in Baltimore’s clubhouse. Players sat at their lockers in complete silence, digesting a disappointing start to the Orioles’ first postseason appearance since 2016.

In a tight, tensely played ALDS opener, the O’s came up short, losing, 3-2, to the Rangers and falling into a 1-0 hole in the best-of-five series. Baltimore scattered five hits, missing chances to come through with a big knock on multiple occasions.

The Orioles didn’t hang onto their somber mood for long, though. Game 1 delivered a tough blow. But they know their season is far from over.

“It’s something we’ve done all year. We’ve had plenty of series where we lost the first game, first two games, and we answered the bell the next day,” left fielder Austin Hays said. “So nothing new here.”

Only the stakes are much higher than they had been during the regular season, when Baltimore lost 17 series openers -- six of which still led to series wins and another four to splits.

The postseason is much different, which is something these mostly young Orioles are about to learn. They’ve defied the odds thus far, outperforming preseason projections to go 101-61 and win the AL East. But they’ll need to keep doing so if they hope to make it past the Rangers and into the AL Championship Series.

In all best-of-five postseason series, Game 1 winners have gone on to take the series 105 of 148 times (71 percent). In Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format, teams that have won Game 1 on the road have advanced 30 of 42 times (also 71 percent).

“Continue to stay positive, learn from this one, be prepared for tomorrow,” center fielder Cedric Mullins said.

Six Baltimore pitchers combined to hold Texas’ juggernaut offense to three runs. Two scored during a five-hit rally against right-hander Kyle Bradish in the fourth, and another came on a Josh Jung homer in the sixth. The Orioles’ bats were even quieter.

Ryan Mountcastle hit an RBI double in the fourth, and Anthony Santander belted a solo home run in the sixth. But the O’s put the leadoff runner on base in each of the final three innings against a Rangers bullpen susceptible to giving up late runs, and they couldn't score each time.

Aaron Hicks drew a leadoff walk in the seventh, then Josh Sborz retired the next three Baltimore batters. Hays and Adley Rutschman drew back-to-back walks to open the eighth vs. Aroldis Chapman, then Santander grounded into a double play and Mountcastle struck out.

Gunnar Henderson hit a leadoff single in the ninth but got caught trying to steal second base. Then José Leclerc sealed Texas’ win by retiring Hicks and Adam Frazier.

“Coming up in big moments, it can’t happen every time,” Mullins said. “We had a string of good swings, just not a string of hits. I think that was our biggest issue today, and we’ll be able to look at some video, see what we can correct and go into tomorrow with a new, fresh mindset.”

Added manager Brandon Hyde: “This is a tough team to beat if you score two runs.”

In Sunday’s Game 2, the Orioles will face left-hander Jordan Montgomery, who threw seven scoreless innings in the Rangers’ win at Tampa Bay in Game 1 of the AL Wild Card Series. It’s a more daunting matchup than Baltimore faced Saturday, when it encountered left-hander Andrew Heaney and righty Dane Dunning during the first half of the contest.

The O’s aren’t going to completely rework their offensive approach. They’ve made it this far by routinely working quality at-bats, and they’re positive they’ll be more effective Sunday.

“Our process from a hitting standpoint has always been the same; it’s going to continue to be the same,” Rutschman said. “If you’re a playoff-caliber team, that’s how you have to treat the regular season, so that you’re ready for these moments right now.”

As Baltimore tries to bounce back -- a hallmark trait for a team that hasn’t lost more than four straight games this year or been swept in 91 consecutive multigame series -- it knows it will have the support of its fans trying to will it to victory.

Saturday’s crowd was the largest at Camden Yards since Game 2 of the 2014 ALCS, the most recent time it had hosted a postseason game. The Orioles are hoping they’ll give another raucous crowd plenty to cheer for in Game 2, as they aim to tie the ALDS at 1 before the series shifts to Arlington for Tuesday’s Game 3.

“It was electric. The loudest ballpark I’ve ever been in, louder than the All-Star Game,” Hays said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, for sure. So I’m looking forward to doing it again tomorrow.”