It was an opening day at Camden Yards filled with emotion, and it spilled into the interview room, where Monica Pence Barlow’s husband and family stood near the back and greeted manager Buck Showalter as he entered for his postgame session with the media.
Showalter embraced Barlow’s mother, Ramona, before taking his usual seat, a poignant ending to the Orioles’ 2-1 win over the Red Sox.
Barlow would have loved every minute of today’s game.
“Obviously, you play the game with emotion,” Showalter said. “It’s kind of like spring training and the first day of the season. There are certain parts that people grow up with, and it’s the start of something. A lot of emotion there. Sometimes, it can almost be counter-productive, too, as far as playing, but you get to the point where you just want the game to start. You’ve got some really nice moments before the game.
“You’ve got to grind a game out like that against the Red Sox and they made us earn it.”
Showalter removed his cap and waved it to the crowd during introductions, which increased the volume of his ovation.
“I just got a haircut yesterday. I’m proud of it, what hair is left,” he said.
“You feed off their emotions. The players felt it, too. It’s kind of a thank you more than anything else.”
Tommy Hunter, in his first save opportunity since being named closer, stranded two in the ninth by striking out Jackie Bradley Jr.
“It’s not easy,” Showalter said. “It’s not always going to look aesthetically pleasing, but it’s a hard thing to do. And you’re playing the world champions and there’s a fine margin for error, whether it be Zach Britton or Evan Meek or Brian Matusz. Or for that matter, (Chris) Tillman.
“Tilly didn’t give it. He knew about the fourth inning he wasn’t going to have a normal outing, but he made some really big pitches there in the fifth to get through it. Really, the whole part of it is it’s a chain. If your chain’s that long every night, you’re going to have some problems.
“I’d like to say they’ll get easier, but they won’t. One-run leads in the American League East home or away are hard to finish. You know you’re going to get everybody’s best shot. We gave it ours and we were fortunate to come out with one more run than they did and 27 outs. You know when you’re facing (Jon) Lester and the Red Sox, you’re going to have to pitch well. I like that statistic at the end of the game where there’s another run than the other team has.”
Nelson Cruz gave the Orioles that extra run with his homer in the seventh, but Showalter was more focused on the veteran’s defense in left field, including a leaping catch on the warning track with two runners on base and none out in the second.
“I was really happy with Nellie in left field today. He made a couple good plays in a place where he hasn’t played a whole lot,” Showalter said.
“It’s not just us. I think that everybody tries to develop a culture of defense. I think Nellie’s on a mission. When I had him in Texas, when we got him in a trade, he was considered a well-above average defender with a plus arm, and it’s still there. I think he and Wayne Kirby had a great spring and I actually think going and making the play he made early kind of got him in the flow a little bit. You get a return from something that you spend so much time on.
“We had about seven points of emphasis in the spring and that was one of them, and it just creates a lot of good options for me. For instance, if Nicky (Markakis) couldn’t have gone today. I’ll be able to DH some people because of David Lough’s versatility.”
Ryan Flaherty made several outstanding plays at third base in his first game as Manny Machado’s replacement.
“He’s not trying to (replace Manny). He’s trying to hold the fort down until Manny gets back,” Showalter said. “
Ryan’s going to do some good things for us. When I was making the decision about today, I wanted to err on the side of defense. We have some other people who can play over there, but I just felt like Ryan could impact our game defensively, and we hoped we pitched well enough to keep it close with Lester.”
Tillman gutted out five innings, allowing only a solo home run by Grady Sizemore in the fourth.
“It wasn’t a command issue. It was more of the Red Sox,” Showalter said. “I haven’t counted foul balls, but that’s what they do, and you’ve just got to keep grinding and keep matching and not give in in an at-bat. Keep the ball in the ballpark. I think Sizemore broke his bat on the home run. So, I can’t fault that.
“(Tillman) was dodging me in the fifth up the runway, trying to get up the stairs before I could get him. I took him about five more pitches than I really wanted to. I felt like he had earned the right to face (Mike) Carp.”
Evan Meek, in his first major league appearance since 2012, walked two batters and retired two in the eighth, including a strikeout.
“There’s little moments like Evan Meek getting on the mound,” Showalter said. “Two years ago, people thought his career was over. Don’t think he had some juice flying around today. These guys know when something’s, not taken away from them, but not there for them. He didn’t have anything to do with it. It’s an injury, and to get back to that point... I think you’ll see Evan get nothing but better.
“A lot of these guys, it’s just getting this outing out of the way. You saw the velocity and everything this spring compared to today, there’s a little bit, I don’t want to say tightness, but your want-to is so much it kind of gets in the way a little bit. I think once we get into the flow of the season, we’ll have a chance to have some contributors down there.”
Zach Britton retired six of seven batters he faced, all on ground balls. It was like a continuation of spring training.
“It was today. Let’s see the rest of it,” Showalter said. “He’s in a pretty good place. Today was a good day to get off and carry over what he established in the spring, so it bodes well for us if we have two guys pitching well left-handed that also get some right-handed hitters out.”
Jonathan Schoop also picked up where he left off with his single in the third inning.
“I understand that in the spring, sometimes you’re ambushing some Double-A and Triple-A pitchers and (just in case players] in the game. It’s another level. I’ll admit I spent quite a few glances over at Jon just taking in how he was taking it in. It was fun to watch.”
That includes Schoop running down the orange carpet during introductions.
“I think Jon was floating on it,” Showalter said. “He didn’t have to worry about tripping.”