The scoreboard clock counting down to the next chapter of Orioles baseball hit 00:00. It heralded the beginning of Thursday’s pregame ceremony, yet at that exact moment Corbin Burnes trotted up the dugout steps and turned toward the outfield in preparation for his opening day assignment.

There is new ownership in Baltimore, yes. The group led by David Rubenstein bought a team that manager Brandon Hyde rightfully predicted was going to pick up right where it left off, as the Orioles did with an 11-3 drumming of the visiting Angels.

Hyde, entering his sixth season with Baltimore, once managed Orioles teams that lacked talent. Now, he has it in spades. He knows talent is the separator over the course of a baseball season. So perhaps it wasn’t happenstance that Burnes appeared before a crowd at Camden Yards for the first time at that exact moment the next chapter, by that clock’s telling, began.

There was Orioles baseball before Burnes arrived, and there will be after he leaves, likely for the hundreds of millions of dollars in free agency that his talents will warrant. Maybe he’ll head elsewhere in the fall with a World Series ring. This chapter of Orioles baseball, with these 2024 Orioles as talented as they are around him, has the potential to be special simply because he is.

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Burnes struck out 11 in six nearly immaculate innings in his Orioles debut, the only blemish a solo home run by Mike Trout in the first inning that went as high as it did far but landed in the home bullpen. He otherwise dominated the Angels, and did so in a fashion that bodes well for the rest of the season.

There were strikeouts galore, beginning with a check-swing strikeout on a cutter to leadoff man Anthony Rendon and ending when he landed another immaculate curveball to Rendon to end the sixth on a called third strike. He had six of his 11 strikeouts on the pitch, generating six whiffs on eight swings.

He said it was the rare day when all of his pitches were working, allowing him to sequence differently than he normally would. He also credited the offense with the lead it built him early, after which he just wanted to stay in the strike zone, always in attack mode. When you attack the zone with five pitches working, hitters typically go down as meekly as the Angels did.

This level of dominance is what the Orioles traded three valuable pieces of their future — DL Hall, Joey Ortiz, and a first-day draft pick in 2024 — to acquire. This is who Burnes is. He is the 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner, near the top of anyone’s list of the best pitchers in the game today. Yet on the evidence of Thursday, Burnes might even go beyond the typical hyperbole of what a team gets when it brings in someone of his caliber.

Adley Rutschman congratulates Corbin Burnes as the team returns to the dugout. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Every team, by virtue of existing, has an opening day starter. Many of them can consider that pitcher their true No. 1, the undisputed top pitcher on their staff. Filter further for quality and you have the aces, the kind who draw crowds to the ballpark on their start day and for whom the baseline expectation is high-fives on the field after the game ends.

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There may be fewer than 10 of them around the league. Teams build marketing campaigns, special fan sections and seasons around them. Championship seasons, to be clearer.

Burnes has the potential to be all that and then some for the Orioles. When the calendar turned over in January and we all expected a healthy Kyle Bradish in camp, there was a reasonable case to be made that the Orioles would be OK riding into 2024 with the pitching staff they ended last year with.

Bradish was one of the league’s best pitchers in 2023. Backed up by a full season of an ascendant Grayson Rodriguez, a healthy John Means, the increasingly reliable Dean Kremer and a returning Tyler Wells, you could have argued that would be a playoff rotation once again. I might have even argued it in this space and, even if I did, it took all of one start from Burnes to paint that as an incredibly dumb argument to make.

Considered as a binary proposition, having a pitcher like Burnes is far better than not. When he can be acquired for a reasonable price, as Burnes was, all the better. Consider what his peers had to say about him in a quick clubhouse survey.

Rodriguez: “Impressive.”

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Wells: “Dominant.”

Cole Irvin: “What’s expected.”

None is wrong, even Irvin, though this opening day start was Burnes meeting as high a bar as exists. The rest of the Orioles staff watched part in awe but also with an eye toward both learning from him and matching his performance.

The main rotation additions from the prior two Orioles offseasons — Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson — were floor raisers, providing a baseline on which to build an otherwise inexperienced starting rotation from within.

Burnes is a ceiling raiser. His opening day start showed his potential to make a good team even better, bringing everyone and everything around him to a level this team hasn’t seen in generations.

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David Rubenstein proclaimed that he didn’t want opening day, coming off a 101-win revival a season ago, to be “the high-water mark” for Orioles baseball on his watch.

“I want the high-water mark to be in the fall, when we go to the World Series,” he said.

The next chapter of Orioles baseball began Thursday with a pitcher acquired mere days after Rubenstein reached an agreement to purchase the team in January. Burnes set quite a high-water mark with his team debut. And he very well might be responsible for a higher one in October.

Jon Meoli is the Baltimore Banner's Orioles columnist and head women's ice hockey coach at Loyola University Maryland.

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