NEW YORK -- Before the on-field introductions, before the hockey rink-sized American flag stretched across center field, before the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day commenced, Brandon Hyde hopped onto the bench in the visitors’ dugout at Yankee Stadium and exhaled. An offseason of overhaul had given way to a
NEW YORK -- Before the on-field introductions, before the hockey rink-sized American flag stretched across center field, before the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day commenced, Brandon Hyde hopped onto the bench in the visitors’ dugout at Yankee Stadium and exhaled. An offseason of overhaul had given way to a whirlwind spring and bled into an eager night. Now the official start of a new era of Orioles baseball awaited, on the other side of all that, a brisk March afternoon in the Bronx.
He blinked hard into a line of cameras before peering at the field beyond them.
“I didn’t sleep much last night,” Hyde said. “This is the real deal right here. If you can’t get up for this, you can’t get up for anything.”
And so it was that with some wear on his face, more than a dozen friends and family in the stands and so much still unsettled that Hyde led the Orioles into that new era, Thursday’s 7-2 loss to the Yankees underscoring the many challenges it figures to bring. Hyde is far from the only fresh face here for it. Seven of the nine spots in Baltimore’s starting lineup were held by players not in the organization a year ago; the O's broke camp with 11 who are on the club’s Opening Day roster for the first time. Shortly after one of those, Cedric Mullins, tapped the season’s second pitch back to the mound, general manager Mike Elias took to the TV booth to outline the vision of the front office he joined in November. A group of new coaches flanked Hyde along the dugout rail.
“They say your name [on the P.A. system],” Hyde said, “and it kind of hits you a little bit.”
Technically, this wasn’t Hyde’s managerial debut. That came in the form of a one-game interim gig with the Marlins, way back in 2011. But Thursday still provided an array of firsts for the rookie skipper, tasked with serving as the public face of this rebuild’s first stage.
Hyde’s first head-scratcher came four batters in, when a perfectly executed hit-and-run struck Jonathan Villar on the basepaths, extinguishing a potential threat. His first deficit came shortly after, courtesy of Luke Voit’s three-run homer off starter Andrew Cashner. The first in-season questions surfaced regarding Chris Davis, who batted seventh in Hyde’s first batting order and struck out thrice in three at-bats. The first hush fell over the dugout somewhere between Cashner’s final pitch, in the fifth, and Paul Fry’s third to Greg Bird, whose solo shot put the Yanks up by five in the eighth.
“It was quieter than normal because of some jitters from younger players,” Hyde said. “I think that will loosen up and guys will develop more of a rhythm and hopefully gain confidence. That comes with experience, games played, success, all sorts of things.”
All told, Hyde was forced to use three of his four healthy starters over eight innings against New York’s power-laden lineup. Baltimore pitchers walked eight. Their new-look lineup scrapped two runs (one earned) off winning pitcher Masahiro Tanaka but managed two hits opposite the Yankees’ imposing relief trio of Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman. The afternoon brought the disparity between the two rosters clearly into focus.
“Look at our division -- there are so many great teams there. You’d be lying to yourself if you’re saying differently, and we know that,” said Trey Mancini, whose sixth-inning RBI double chased Tanaka. “But we’re not going to go out and play scared. We all see ourselves as Major League Baseball players, so we’re going to go out there and try to compete with those guys.”
The chances to do so will come quickly and in large supply. Six of the Orioles’ first nine games are against New York, pegged as World Series favorites by many. Sixteen of their first 20 games come opposite AL East division foes. The O's spent the spring preaching competition and development, with an eye toward the future. Now those elements are set to play out in real time, with the realities of the regular season here.
“I look at it as a challenge,” Hyde said. “I’ve never backed down from anything. Now it’s about putting yourself in a position to play at this level. How do you stack up as a big league player? How do you deal with the adversity that comes with it? Now they’re going to find out.“
Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.