ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Matt Wieters feels right at home in Tropicana Field, which makes you wonder whether he lives in a large storage shed.
Wieters’ .371 average here is the second-highest among active players with a minimum of 100 at-bats, trailing only Victor Martinez (.402). He had two hits today, including a two-run homer in the first inning off Cy Young Award winner David Price, and drew two walks.
Wieters is now 5-for-10 with two homers and three RBIs in three career openers against Tampa Bay.
The home run today, on a blast to left-center field, staked the Orioles to an early lead that held up until the Rays scored twice in the bottom of the sixth.
One of the more entertaining moments came when Wieters worked Price for 13 pitches before drawing a walk that loaded the bases with one out in the third inning. It was the longest plate appearance of Wieters’ career. The previous longest was 10 on May 30, 2009 against Justin Verlander that ended with a ground-rule double.
“Just trying to get a pitch I could put in play hard and he kept making pitch after pitch,” Wieters said. “It was kind of who was going to win the battle. I think Manny (Machado) was more tired than anybody trying to take off from second every time.”
Adam Jones was just as busy at first base.
“Jonesy and Machado played a whole game there running the bases,” said manager Buck Showalter. “I gave them one pitch off. That was a good at-bat. I think that might have been the difference-maker in the game.”
Price was up to 60 pitches after the third, as the Orioles kept making him work.
“It wasn’t so much us as he might have had an afternoon where he wasn’t quite as sharp as he normally is, but our guys had some good at-bats off him. And that’s hard to do,” Showalter said.
“I think that’s the first home run we’ve ever hit off him. Tampa, rightfully so, should like their chances every game he starts the rest of the season. He’s pretty special.”
The Orioles could be described in the same manner in 2012, but they’re not looking back anymore.
“Last season is over and everybody in this clubhouse has moved on to this year,” Wieters said. “It was a good team win, and Hamm (Jason Hammel) went out there and battled for us today and he was able to get us through six innings and turn it over to the bullpen, which is sort of the recipe we want to use.”
Hammel retired eight in a row before Ben Zobrist homered in the fourth, and he gave up two runs in the sixth to fall behind 3-2. The Orioles scored five runs in the top of the seventh, and the bullpen took over for him.
“I think Hamm was pretty amped up today,” Showalter said. “I thought stuff-wise he was in pretty good shape. Sometimes, you want something to happen too much. It had nothing to do with facing Tampa. He just wanted to be the guy to get us off to a good start. He knew the challenge was going to be tough with Price out there, but we had some run-scoring opportunities we didn’t take care of. But that’s a real tribute to Price. He didn’t break. He kept his team in the game. He got some big outs on double play balls and things that kept us from opening up a little bit.”
Hammel was his harshest critic.
“Overall, I was pretty bad today,” he said. “Just uncharacteristically wild with the fastball. Seventy-five pitches after six innings. On a good day when I’m commanding, I’m going to finish the game. They helped me out by taking early hacks. It got me through some innings.
“I feel like they did it all. I honestly don’t feel like I did anything today. It was a battle. I hate that it was the first one out of the gates. It really was. I wasn’t too good today. I’ll be back in five days. I’ll go work on it in two days to get it right and be good to go real soon.”
A tough crowd of one.
Reminded that he earned his first career win at Tropicana Field, Hammel replied, “It doesn’t surprise me. I just don’t have good history here. That’s what I’ll chalk one up to. It was nice to get one today and good start off today with a W.
“I owe a lot to the Rays. It’s pretty much where my career started. It’s fond memories. The team has changed since I’ve been there, but a lot of history here for myself. I’m appreciative of what they gave to me, but I’m wearing other colors now and that’s really what’s important to me. They got me out there, and putting the weight on my back that I expect to carry. I expect to carry a big load.”
Showalter soaked in the moments with Brian Roberts and Nolan Reimold back on the field after battling through their respective health issues.
“You take it in,” Showalter said. “You know they’re going to have a pretty good night tonight. When you’ve been away from the game like Brian and really Nolan for a full season, you don’t take anything for granted.”
As for not adding a middle-of-the-order bat, Showalter said, “It’s something we looked at, but you look at the number of guys who missed time last year. If we can just keep our people on the field, we feel like we can be competitive. But a lot of bridges to cross. Today starts a long journey together and I’m as curious as everybody else to see where it takes us.”
So far, it’s taken the Orioles to a 1-0 record.