There will be much more of a buzz in the air -- and in the stands -- when the Orioles and the Red Sox face off on Opening Day at Fenway Park on Friday for the second consecutive season. The two clubs were scheduled to play Thursday at 2:10 p.m. ET, but with rain in the forecast, the game was postponed for 24 hours.
Tickets for Thursday's game will be good for admission to the rescheduled contest. Fenway Park gates will open two hours before the game for all fans. Pregame ceremonies are scheduled to begin at 1:40 p.m.
Last year, Opening Day between the two clubs took place on July 24, and it was the start of a season shortened to 60 games due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were no fans in the stands.
This time around, the longtime American League East foes are gearing up for the start of a traditional 162-game season.
And for the first time since the last game of the 2019 season, there will be fans at Fenway Park. Per Massachusetts regulations, Fenway will allow 12 percent capacity, which means roughly 4,500 will be in the stands as the '21 season starts anew.
Led by manager Alex Cora, who returns after a one-year suspension, the Red Sox are determined to get back into the playoff hunt after a disappointing 24-36 season in 2020, which left them in last place in the AL East.
“Obviously we made a lot of new changes and have a lot of new faces,” said Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts. “AC came back as a manager. The pitching has been getting better and we have a lot of big arms in the bullpen. And, obviously, we traded for some guys with experience and signed some guys also. So this year we're looking much better than we did last year -- that’s for sure.”
As for the Orioles, they are hoping to take another step in their rebuilding program, but they will be buoyed by the return of veteran Trey Mancini, who missed all of last season recovering from Stage 3 colon cancer.
“I'm very proud of where I am right now. Feeling like myself and feeling great is something I am very appreciative of and don’t take for granted at all,” Mancini said. “I’m hoping to take a lot of that perspective into this year. I really think I’m going to appreciate -- not that I didn’t before -- but I will really appreciate being able to play Major League baseball every single day.”
When is the game and how can I watch it?
First pitch at Fenway Park on Friday is set for 2:10 p.m. Red Sox fans can watch the game locally on NESN and listen on all the affiliates on the WEEI radio network, including flagship 93.7 FM in Boston. Orioles fans can tune in on MASN (Mid-Atlantic Sports Network) and on Orioles Radio Network. Out-of-market fans can watch on MLB.TV.
The starting lineups
Orioles: Mancini is slated to be in the lineup for what is sure to be an emotional day. He is back without restriction as the Orioles' everyday first baseman and top hitter. Free-agent signings Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis will make their team debuts at third base and shortstop, and Pat Valaika will slide in at second base after the late-spring decision to part ways with Yolmer Sánchez. Anthony Santander and Ryan Mountcastle anchor what should be an exciting O’s outfield, after Santander broke out in 2020 and Mountcastle enjoyed a nice debut, positioning himself as an AL Rookie of the Year Award candidate in '21.
1. Cedric Mullins, CF
2. Trey Mancini, 1B
3. Anthony Santander, RF
4. Ryan Mountcastle, LF
5. Maikel Franco, 3B
6. Austin Hays, DH
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Pedro Severino, C
9. Pat Valaika, 2B
Red Sox: There might be questions about their pitching staff, but the Red Sox plan on pounding the baseball with a lineup that is deep from top to bottom. Alex Verdugo, a rare bright spot amid last year’s disappointment, is looking forward to playing in front of Boston fans for the first time. Top rebound candidate J.D. Martinez looks to join Bogaerts and Rafael Devers for what could be a fearsome middle of the order. New faces like Kiké Hernández, Hunter Renfroe and Franchy Cordero will help round out what should be one of the best offenses in MLB.
1. Kiké Hernández, 2B
2. Alex Verdugo, CF
3. J.D. Martinez, DH
4. Xander Bogaerts, SS
5. Rafael Devers, 3B
6. Hunter Renfroe, RF
7. Christian Vázquez, C
8. Marwin Gonzalez, LF
9. Bobby Dalbec, 1B
Who are the starting pitchers?
Orioles: Lefty John Means was supposed to start Opening Day 2020, but he missed the assignment to a bout of left arm fatigue. The '19 All-Star faces no such hurdle this time around after going 2-4 with a 4.53 ERA in 10 starts last season. Means was an All-Star the summer prior, going 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA and placing second in AL Rookie of the Year Award voting. He’s improved his stuff mightily since then, with a fastball that now lives in the mid-90s with elite spin, two distinct breaking balls and a changeup he can throw in any count.
Red Sox: Hard-throwing righty Nathan Eovaldi will step in for ace Eduardo Rodriguez on Opening Day for the second straight year. Rodriguez had "dead arm" in his final start of Spring Training, but he isn’t expected to be out for long. Eovaldi hopes to perform as well as he did in last year’s opener, when he held Baltimore to five hits and one run over six solid innings. In fact, Eovaldi has traditionally fared well against the O’s, going 6-1 with a 4.15 ERA in 12 career starts.
How will the bullpens line up after the starters?
Orioles: The O's will want length from Means every time he takes the mound, given their depth issues and the need for innings coming off the shortened 2020 season. All their young pitchers will be on workload restrictions, and the bullpen still has few defined roles (since his managerial tenure began in '19, Brandon Hyde is yet to name a closer). Hard-throwing lefty Tanner Scott profiles as the highest-leverage reliever with Hunter Harvey (oblique) sidelined; look for Paul Fry and Shawn Armstrong to be asked to get big outs, too, whether its in the middle innings or late in games. The Orioles plan to turn over their pitching again and again in search of innings this year; as of Opening Day, the top feature of this nine-man ‘pen is its ability to eat them in bulk. It includes at least three long man/bulk-innings types, with César Valdez, Wade LeBlanc and Adam Plutko all capable of providing length.
Red Sox: Cora’s two high-leverage relievers are veteran righties Matt Barnes and Adam Ottavino, the latter of whom was acquired in an offseason trade with the rival Yankees. With reliever Ryan Brasier out of the early-season mix due to a fractured right pinkie that slowed him in Spring Training, Cora will need power lefty Darwinzon Hernandez to step up in the seventh inning. Japanese rookie righty Hirokazu Sawamura will be another important weapon, though he needs to rediscover the split that made him such a force for the Chiba Lotte Marines last season. For length, Cora will call on veteran Matt Andriese and rookie Garrett Whitlock.
Any injuries of note?
Orioles: Santander had his breakout 2020 season cut short due to an oblique strain, then he sat out the last week of camp due to similar issues, but he is expected to be in Thursday's lineup. Outfielder DJ Stewart was unable to truly battle for at-bats at the corners and designated hitter because of a left hamstring issue in camp; he’ll open the year on the 10-day injured list. Harvey and Chris Davis are on the 60-day IL, sidelining them at least through May. Davis suffered a lower back strain in the spring opener and never returned.
Red Sox: The big one is Chris Sale, as the lefty ace continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery. The best-case scenario would be Sale returning around midseason and giving Boston a lift for the stretch run. Rodriguez will hopefully just miss a few days at the start of the season. The lefty is determined to pitch as much as he can after missing all of 2020 with myocarditis. Cora looks forward to getting Brasier back soon, as he is a big part of the equation in setup relief.
Who is hot and who is not?
Orioles: Hays had the best camp of any O's hitter, batting .392 with a 1.192 OPS and four homers. Mancini picked up where he left off upon returning, hitting .333 with two homers in Grapefruit League play, and Mullins had a nice enough camp to stave off Hays for everyday reps in center. Franco only got into six games after signing on March 16, Pedro Severino hit .200 in camp and Means pitched to a 7.11 ERA.
Red Sox: At the outset of camp, Cora challenged Hernández to be the leadoff hitter, and the veteran has responded, finishing with a .327 average in the Grapefruit League slate. He has also displayed a sharp batting eye. Rookie Bobby Dalbec looks ready to take on his responsibility as the starting first baseman, after belting seven homers this spring. From a pitching standpoint, Barnes, Ottavino and Whitlock were all excellent throughout Spring Training.
Anything else fans might want to know?
• This will be the fourth straight season Bogaerts and Devers will start Opening Day on the left side of the infield for the Red Sox. The last time the club had a duo start four consecutive openers was 1914-17 (Larry Gardner and Everett Scott).
• Before 2020, the Orioles last played a season opener at Fenway Park in 1966. They also finished the ’19 season in Boston and it is where Means made his MLB debut in September ’18.
• Exactly one week after these teams open at Fenway, they will face off in Baltimore’s home opener at Camden Yards.
• Cora will be the first person to return as manager for a franchise after just a one-season gap since the late Billy Martin (1983, ’85).
• A switch-hitter for his first three MLB seasons, Mullins is hitting exclusively left-handed now as he attempts to maximize his ability at the big league level. That should allow Hays to get plenty of at-bats against left-handed pitching, even when the O’s use the DH slot to rotate Mancini and others through.