BOSTON – The Orioles came within a pitch, an out, a fly ball, of guaranteeing a series win at Fenway Park and wound up losing two of three games.
Baseball isn’t boring. It’s just so darn unpredictable and doesn’t care about your feelings.
The 2022 season began with three losses at Tropicana Field, and the Orioles contended for the wild card until the final week. In that sense, they’re further ahead in 2023.
Here are some leftover topics and observations as they get ready for the Rangers, who already won their opening series against the defending National League champion Phillies before the teams played again last night.
Impact of bigger bases blown out of proportion.
At least so far.
The bases could be the size of dimes and the Orioles wouldn’t notice. Most of their steals were uncontested.
They were getting huge leads and jumps. Catcher Reese McGuire had no chance in the first two games while he was behind the plate.
The Orioles had five steals Thursday and five Saturday to set the major league record for the first two games of a season. It was a club record for any two-game stretch.
“We’re going to break some records if we steal five a game,” manager Brandon Hyde said before the Orioles were silenced on the basepaths yesterday.
“We have team speed and when the opportunity is there, we’re going to be aggressive.”
As I’ve said and written, Jorge Mateo easily could have swiped a few more if pitches weren’t fouled off, or if Cedric Mullins hadn’t lined into a double play in the opener.
Perhaps the Orioles are taking advantage of the pitch clock, as the Red Sox suggested. Or just their speed and aggression.
They’re gonna run. Other teams should be prepared for it or it’s on them.
Clubhouse reaction after Ryan McKenna’s drop.
Friends and fans wondered about it. What was it like after Saturday’s walk-off loss?
I tease a good friend of mine for treating baseball like the NFL, where he lives and dies with every result. I remind him that it’s one of 162. Pace yourself or you’ll never make it.
I received a text message from him late Saturday night saying, “That loss really hurt!”
It definitely stung because of the manner in which it happened. A routine 4-2 defeat wouldn’t feel the same. Blowing a 7-1 lead, and appearing to win the game as McKenna camped under a fly ball, was downright cruel.
I lowered my head to finish typing the last sentence of the first version of my story that I usually post immediately after the final out. I heard the crowd roar and the press box reaction, and saw McKenna firing the ball back to the infield. I turned toward one of the televisions and waited for the replay. It was stunning.
But it also wasn’t the end of the game. The Orioles still led by a run. I said to no on in particular, “If there’s a walk-off home run here …” Practically predicted it.
And then, boom. On Félix Bautista’s second pitch.
Hyde spoke in low tones outside the clubhouse. Or maybe it just seemed that way because it was so loud, as usual. Not the best setup, but the Red Sox don’t make it easy with their cramped clubhouse and limited interview space.
Anyway, he was disappointed, for sure, but also quick to defend McKenna and Bautista, as he should in that moment. Music was playing when we entered the clubhouse, but it was piped in from the ballpark. The players weren’t cranking up the tunes.
Here’s what I noticed: McKenna already was at his locker and almost dressed, knowing we’d want to talk to him. Also as we’d expect. The guy is a class act and he understands that we have to speak with him in good times and bad. And teammates were offering their support, including shortstop Jorge Mateo, who put an arm around McKenna’s shoulder as he headed to the shower area, glanced at us and likely told him that we were approaching.
It was a combination of hurting over a loss but also for their friend and teammate. The Red Sox rallied for the win and the Orioles rallied around McKenna.
Bautista seems fine physically.
I supposed it’s a natural reaction. A closer gets a late start to spring training and is questionable for the Opening Day roster because of his shoulder and knee, gives up runs in the first two games, and raises questions about his health.
Except for this: One of the two runs Thursday was unearned. He would have retired the side in order Saturday except for the dropped fly ball. Adam Duvall’s home run came on a 99.7 mph fastball.
A low-to-mid 90s heater would have made me wonder, but not 99.7.
Hyde paused when asked about Bautista being “shaky” in the first two games, and then pointed out how the big right-hander was on the verge of retiring the side in order.
“Well … he got the first three outs and gave up the homer after that,” Hyde said.
Of course, if Duvall strikes out, pops up, grounds out, whatever, Bautista’s health and struggles don’t enter the chat. But location seemed to be the issue on the last pitch.
Fenway Park and its Green Monster, where the ball traveled 387 feet to the first row of seats.
But also, how Duvall was able to barrel the fastball.
Duvall was a beast in the series. He was the first Red Sox player to record six extra-base hits in his first three games with the team. No player had done it since Toronto’s Rowdy Tellez in 2018.
Outfield defense declined.
Everyone got in on the act in those first two games. Balls that should have been caught but weren’t, by outfielders who are much better than that.
I’d place the outfield fairly low on my list of concerns about the club. This won’t be the norm. They didn’t suddenly lose their skills between Sarasota and Boston.
As Austin Hays said on Saturday, McKenna catches that ball 999 times out of 1,000. It’s just one of those bizarre moments that can’t easily be explained. And especially from a guy who earlier made a tremendous diving grab.
It’s like rain on your wedding day.
Actually, not at all. Clouds are made up of tiny water droplets, and when these droplets grow, they eventually become too heavy to stay suspended in the sky and fall to the ground as rain. But I digress …
Hays laid out for a ball yesterday and made a tremendous catch. Terrin Vavra had a miscommunication in left with retreating shortstop Gunnar Henderson, but also made two nice plays.
Let’s revisit the defense after the Orioles play in Arlington.
The Orioles are missing relievers Dillon Tate and Mychal Givens, which adjusts how Hyde normally tries to use his bullpen.
Logan Gillaspie made his first Opening Day roster, somewhat unexpectedly, and entered Thursday’s game with two outs in the eighth inning and a runner on base. A strikeout stranded him and gave Gillaspie a “hold.”
He pitched again Saturday, this time to start the eighth, and retired the first two batters before a bogus hit by pitch ended his night. Another “hold” was recorded.
“We’re missing a couple bullpen guys right now, which is giving some other guys some opportunities to pitch in some tight moments,” Hyde said. “Logan’s got real good life to his fastball, it’s upper 90s, and a good slider. Throwing strikes, attacking guys.
“That was unfortunate with the Kiké (Hernández) supposedly hit by pitch, but besides that, he was lights out.”
Replay remains pointless.
Gillaspie’s pitch tailed up and in, but it did not hit Hernández. Multiple replays confirmed it, except for the ones monitored in New York.
Why have the replay system if it can’t correct a mistake?
Too many fans at Fenway can’t judge a fly ball.
Sorry, but it’s true.
Any sort of contact elicits a loud roar from the crowd. Meanwhile, the ball is caught in medium range in the outfield.
It’s been this way for centuries, and it never fails to amuse us in the press box.
Or is this just some orchestrated tradition like singing “Sweet Caroline” in the eighth inning?
The misjudged fly balls from the stands are so bad, so bad, so bad.
Just watch the outfielder. He’ll let you know how deep it’s hit and whether the result might be a home run. Or just do you and we'll keep chuckling.
Game times compared to spring training.
The Orioles played a grand total of two exhibition games that exceeded three hours. They matched that total in the first two games in Boston.
Yesterday’s 9-5 loss took two hours, 44 minutes. And the teams combined for 14 runs, 24 hits and another batch of mid-inning pitching changes.
As Hyde said before the game, a two-hour game isn’t good if the Orioles lose. He’ll wait seven hours for a win.
Some beat writers mentioned their 9:45 p.m. flights home. Perhaps the Orioles could get the desired result in, say, five hours.
Steve Melewski is in Texas and handling game coverage and any news that breaks or warrants a few sentences.