'Meant the world': Mancini gets ovation

Fans show love for returning slugger in Orioles' home opener

April 9th, 2021

Before Thursday’s 7-3 home opening loss to the Red Sox, it had been 18 1/2 months since fans and had stepped foot in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, for different and well-documented reasons.

They missed each other.

Mancini received a hero’s welcome from the limited capacity crowd of 10,150 during his emotional return to the ballpark, finishing 1-for-4 with a run scored in his first home game since beating Stage 3 colon cancer. Prior to Thursday, Mancini’s last regular-season home game was on Sept. 21, 2019, the day fans were last allowed in the park.

“Even though it was 25% capacity, it felt like a full stadium out there,” Mancini said. “It was amazing. It was nothing short of what I expected. We have the best fans in baseball here, and no matter what, they love us. That meant the world to me.”

The combination made for a celebratory vibe, even in a losing effort. The O’s were thrilled to welcome a quarter-capacity crowd back, after playing the entire 2020 season without fans or their top slugger. They received key contributions from several players who arrived between then and now, from the five innings from starter to the two-run homer, before the bullpen let a one-run lead slip away in the sixth inning.

Mountcastle’s second straight adventurous day in left field led to Boston’s two deciding runs in the sixth off Harvey and Paul Fry, and Baltimore’s continuing contact issues kept the offense stalled against winner Eduardo Rodriguez and three relievers. The O’s struck out 14 times, marking their fifth straight game with at least 13 whiffs. They are the first team in MLB to do that.

“It was just a good feeling to hear the fans back in Camden Yards,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “There is definitely more emotion in the game with the fans. Our players really fed off the energy early, and it’s unfortunate we couldn’t hold on.”

Here are some more highlights from what was a home opener unlike any other in Orioles history:

'Welcome home!'

Ovations are becoming the norm for Mancini, ever since he made his return to the field this spring in Sarasota, Fla. The Red Sox made a special effort to acknowledge him on Opening Day at Fenway Park, with manager Alex Cora saying that weekend that Mancini already deserved Comeback Player of the Year honors. The Yankees also publicly welcomed Mancini back before the start of the second series of the season, in the Bronx. 

But Thursday’s reception was by far the largest yet. Running out on a miniature orange carpet from the dugout as part of the club’s revamped opening ceremonies, Mancini received a long ovation as emcee Rob Long bellowed “Welcome home!”

“That was a pretty emotional start to the home season,” Hyde said. “I thought the ovation was awesome. It was cool being out there on the line with him … so well deserved. That was just an incredible moment.”

Mancini then received another ovation prior to his first at-bat, tipping his cap to the crowd and acknowledging Rodriguez, who also missed the 2020 season, due to a heart condition.

"They’re giving him the round of applause and he pointed straight to me,” Rodriguez said. “And he pointed at his chest like, ‘Is your heart good?’ And [I said], ‘You’re good too?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’”

Hyde ejected

The first home game brought Hyde’s first umpire dustup of the year -- and first ejection.

Hyde initially emerged from the dugout to tend to Rio Ruiz, who appeared to be hit in the left elbow by a Rodriguez pitch in the fourth. But when third-base umpire Scott Barry ruled Ruiz had swung, Hyde became irate. He was soon tossed by home-plate umpire Jeremie Rehak.

“That’s the quickest ejection I ever had,” Hyde said. “I was asking how Scott could see that as a swing. According to Jeremie, I asked one too many times.”

Asked if he’d ever seen Hyde that upset, Mancini said: “I haven’t. But that was awesome.”

Seeing double

What happens when two fielders dive for the same ball? It sounds like a recipe for disaster. Or maybe something beautiful.

The latter came true in the fifth inning, when left fielder Mountcastle and center fielder created an optical illusion of sorts in robbing Enrique Hernández. Converging in the left-center-field gap, Mullins and Mountcastle dove from opposite directions toward one another … at nearly the same time. Mountcastle came up short, but Mullins didn’t, leaping into the frame to make the play.

It was the latest in what’s been a sensational start of the season for Mullins, who ranks among MLB’s hit leaders with 13 through seven games. The speedy center fielder was the Orioles’ top-rated defender in 2020, registering five Outs Above Average, per Statcast.