Adley Rutschman walked into the dugout around 6:30 p.m., turned and headed back into the tunnel. Photographers jostling for position on the other side of the railing lowered their arms. Stakeouts apparently come with a pause button.
Rutschman immediately came back, again in his full catching gear, walked up the steps and smiled as fans cheered and yelled his name. He wasn’t animated, but he noticed it.
The top pick in the 2019 draft is known as a big autograph signer, but the starting pitcher needed him in the bullpen.
Another ovation broke out as Rutschman’s name was read over the public address system, and again as he walked back from the bullpen to the dugout. The game hadn’t started and he already was bathed in sweat and showered with affection on a steamy evening at Camden Yards.
The major league debut of baseball’s No. 1 prospect was going to be rated a success just by getting him to Baltimore.
Rutschman struck out and walked from the right side of the plate, switched to the left in the seventh inning and tripled into the right field corner. Absolute bedlam at the ballpark, where the Rays won 6-1 before 17,573 and the outcome seemed secondary.
It won't always be that way as the Orioles aim to become contenders again, but tonight was an understandable and exhilarating exception.
"It was noticeable obviously and it was a great ovation for Adley," said manager Brandon Hyde. "So cool to see the fans come out and recognize him. You saw the signs in the stands and people standing up when he was hitting. It was a cool moment, something I'm sure he'll never forget."
Randy Arozarena had his third career multi-homer game against the Orioles, who have lost 19 of their last 21 games to Tampa Bay. But everyone was talking about Rutschman, who joined Matt Wieters and Manny Machado as Orioles top prospects who tripled for their first career hits. Machado and Rutschman did it in their debuts.
Ryan McKenna was the most recent Oriole on April 11, 2021 versus the Red Sox.
Rutschman collected three triples in 778 minor league plate appearances. He fouled off three straight pitches from Ralph Garza Jr. tonight and pulled a changeup, the eighth pitch of the at-bat, down the line.
"Players are aware of the pressure he was under tonight and wanted to see him perform," Hyde said. "It's cool to see him hit a triple."
Brett Phillips was slow to get the ball back to the infield, unable to pick it up on the first attempt. Rutschman was fast enough to make it to third. Pandemonium ensued.
"Tough AB and able to get out on a changeup, see it drop," Rutschman said. "Definitely relieving. Triple was probably not an expected outcome."
An eighth-inning rally produced a run and enabled Rutschman to lead off the ninth. He popped up against left-hander Colin Poche, fans again rose to their feet to cheer, and many headed for the exits.
Party over. Like the lights were turned up at a bar.
You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.
Rutschman will be back Sunday as the designated hitter in an afternoon affair.
"Even defensive plays like a blocked strike and a popup caught," Hyde said. "I thought it was cool. They're excited to see him. Birdland was watching tonight and wanted to see what he looked like and wanted to see him on the big stage, and they're excited about him."
Kyle Bradish was charged with five runs and five hits in 5 1/3 innings, with two walks and five strikeouts. Mike Baumann replaced him with runners on the corners and Yandy Diaz scored on a ground ball.
Working with Rutschman again "was awesome," Bradish said.
"It was definitely a job to share that moment with him. I know it's a big deal for him and this city of Baltimore. It's been waiting for a while, so it was awesome to be out there and share that with him.
"He's a ballplayer. We both talked about it before we both went out there. Said, 'Keep doing what you've been doing,' kind of gave my thoughts about how it was for me. He's focused, locked in, ready to go."
"I use the word 'special' a lot today," Rutschman said, "but there's really no better word to describe it than a guy you've caught before and you're able to catch him in a big league outing."
The Orioles jogged onto the field in the top of the first inning and the crowd erupted. Rutschman shook plate umpire Andy Fletcher’s hand and did a slow, 360-degree turn as if taking a mental panoramic photo.
"It was just kind of something that a couple guys had told me when they made their debut and they caught," he said. "They just said, 'Make sure to appreciate every moment. If you can, take a second and just soak it all in, because that's something that you're going to remember forever. So just kind of took that to heart, I guess."
The butterflies stayed with him as he sat in the interview room.
"I think I'm still running on nerves right now," he said. "But from the second that I walked onto the field to warm up the pitcher till I walked in the tunnel, just an emotional overload. I can't really explain the feeling because it's just unlike anything else I've ever experienced and I'm just blessed to be part of this team and this moment."
Bradish struck out the first two batters on six pitches, walked Ji-Man Choi with the count full after Fletcher squeezed him harder than Rutschman’s hand, and surrendered a two-run homer to Arozarena on the next pitch.
Rutschman batted in the second inning after Trey Mancini’s leadoff single, yet another infield hit for the first baseman, and Ryan Mountcastle’s liner to left field. Rutschman struck out on four pitches, with Rays left-hander Jeffrey Springs throwing him three consecutive changeups.
Another standing ovation. Rutschman could do no wrong, even when an at-bat didn’t go right.
Mancini’s hit was the only one off Springs in 5 2/3 innings. Almost overlooked because Rutschman was a much bigger deal.
A five-pitch walk leading off the fifth ignited the crowd again. It’s the simple pleasures that can bring the most joy.
"Just extremely blessed to be able to play this game," Rutschman said. "I have people who support me, who were cheering for me. Obviously, lost the game, and just looking forward to just being with the team and trying to win games again. Obviously special that a lot of people were cheering tonight, but I can't wait to just get to that normal, everyday team aspect."
Arozarena launched a 95.4 mph fastball into the left field seats with one out in the fourth inning for a 3-0 lead. His 11th career home run in 23 games against the Orioles, along with 25 RBIs and a .413 average.
"I made it look pretty difficult tonight," said Bradish, whose 27 strikeouts in his first five career games tie him with Dean Kremer for the club record. "Apparently, he's kind of been the Oriole killer the past couple years and I helped to that. But first time, just got to be better."
Choi had a sacrifice fly in the sixth after the Rays began the inning with back-to-back singles.
Springs walked Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander in the bottom of the sixth, and Mancini broke his bat on fly ball after reliever Jason Adam entered the game. Mancini had an RBI single in the eighth to break up the shutout.
Kevin Kiermaier led off the top of the eighth with a home run. Baumann, in his return to the club today, allowed one run and three hits in 3 2/3 innings.
Rutschman raced back toward the screen and caught Vidal Brujan’s popup to end the eighth. Because he may as well squeeze one more ovation from a crowd that brought an endless supply of them.
"I'm sure this is a huge relief for him because there was so much buildup and anticipation," Hyde said. "Great to see him get a hit out of the way. I thought he caught extremely well, I was extremely impressed with his defense. He had a great walk and hit a triple, so it was a great debut and hopefully he can exhale a little bit and just start playing the game.
"I've seen tough debuts and I've seen hyped up debuts and I've seen how stressful and hard it is to live up to expectations. I just want him to be him and I just want him to go play. I know he's going to have ups and downs and he's going to have good games and tough games, and that's all part of it. He's a very, very talented player and a great kid, and just want to see him go play without undo pressure when it's already hard enough."
Down on the farm, Robert Neustrom hit a three-run homer for Triple-A Norfolk. Jacob Nottingham also homered.
Double-A Bowie’s Garrett Stallings struck out seven batters and walked none in six innings, but he surrendered three solo home runs. Maverick Handley and Shayne Fontana homered.
High Single-A Aberdeen’s Ignacio Feliz allowed one hit and struck out seven batters in four scoreless relief innings, but the IronBirds committed six errors.