O's top Yankees in the dawn of a new era in Baltimore

AL East foes go down in front of sellout crowd of 45,017, the largest since Opening Day 2018

April 8th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- doesn’t have many firsts left nearly one year into his MLB career. Since his arrival last May 21, he has checked off all the individual milestones -- first hit, first home run, etc. And he experienced his first Opening Day on March 30, when he powered the Orioles to a season-opening win over the Red Sox.

But one thing Rutschman still hadn’t done entering Friday? Be part of the introductions during an orange carpet ceremony at Camden Yards, a Baltimore home-opener tradition that dates back to 1996.

He had that happen, and then played a key role in the O's thrilling 7-6 victory over the Yankees in front of a sellout crowd of 45,017, the largest in Baltimore since March 29, 2018 (an Opening Day attendance of 45,469).

Before the first pitch, every member of the Orioles -- from the longest-tenured players to the veteran newcomers to the youngsters -- was excited for his pregame introduction, and most for a jaunt from the center-field warning track, through the outfield grass and onto the infield dirt. Rutschman, who warmed up starter Dean Kremer in the bullpen during the proceedings, was especially looking forward to the fanfare after something that had happened that morning.

“I was driving on my way over here today and saw someone pull up next to me in their car as I was driving on the highway, and they had a 35 jersey on and they started smiling and waved over,” said Rutschman, who wears No. 35. “It got me excited.”

Rightfully so. Baltimore has shown a rejuvenated passion for the O’s coming off a breakthrough 2022 season and an offseason filled with high anticipation.

The atmosphere for Friday’s back-and-forth home opener was electric from the start, even before Kremer's first pitch of the afternoon. The decibel levels got even higher in key situations, such as Rutschman’s game-tying RBI single in the sixth inning, Ramón Urías’ go-ahead RBI double in the seventh and reliever ’s escape act in the eighth, when he got out of a two-on, no-out jam and stranded the potential tying run on third base.

The overwhelmingly pro-Orioles crowd rose to its feet in the top of the ninth inning and then roared as sent them home happy. The closer sealed the win over the American League East rival Yanks by inducing a popout from Anthony Rizzo that left Aaron Judge -- who had walked with two outs, stolen second and advanced to third on a wild pitch -- stranded as the potential tying run.

As the O’s improved throughout 2022, interest in the team grew. But the environment in which they played Friday showed fan support could reach another level in ‘23.

“I don’t remember it being like that last year,” Urías said. “There were a couple games that [had] big energy, but nothing like today.”

It hasn’t been like this for much of manager Brandon Hyde’s tenure, as he was hired to help lead a rebuild prior to the 2019 season, then posted a .341 winning percentage over his first three years at the helm. Home games against AL East opponents -- particularly the Yankees and Red Sox -- have often featured more fans of the visiting team.

Hyde has felt the change, and he lauded the increased support in the second half of last year’s 83-win campaign. He noticed it again Thursday, when he was walking around Baltimore and many more people came up to him to praise the O’s.

“You want your fan base to feel good about their team, and you want people to be excited and want to watch your club,” Hyde said. “I think it’s uplifting for the city, too. We’re fun to watch, and people are following us and like our players.”

The skipper called Friday’s packed seats “a definite Baltimore crowd, all the way through.” The team fed off that energy.

“I know it’s a baseball city, and they love the Orioles,” said , who went 2-for-5 with an RBI double. “Going out there and being able to win was really awesome. I’m just glad for the fans.”

The O’s are 4-3 on the season with a long way to go, so they’ll need plenty more wins if they hope to achieve their goal of returning to the postseason for the first time since 2016, and bringing mid-October baseball back to Camden Yards for the first time since ‘14.

But Baltimore’s competition is already viewing it as a legitimate challenger.

"As far as I'm concerned, they're a tough team to beat and are contenders now,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “We saw that building the last couple years, certainly last year, and now, they're playing with a lot of confidence.”

That could lead to even more success for the Orioles. And based on the growing support, their city is ready for it.