On the way to the ballpark this morning, a car pulled alongside Adley Rutschman’s on the highway. He looked over, saw the driver wearing a No. 35 jersey — his No. 35 jersey — and wondered if the Orioles fan would notice.

“They started smiling and waved over,” Rutschman said, smiling himself as he recalled the moment.

When manager Brandon Hyde used his Thursday off-day to walk around Baltimore, it felt different.

“There’s a lot more people that come up to you about your club in a positive way,” he said.

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There’s a feeling around Camden Yards — a feeling around Baltimore as a whole — that began after Rutschman arrived in the big leagues last summer. Along with the winning that followed, he propelled the club onto the Major League Baseball radar. And even with a winter that included fewer offseason transactions than some fans expected, names such as Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and Grayson Rodriguez — the young stars — brought fans out in droves to Camden Yards on Friday.

The sellout crowd of 45,017 at the home opener got to see a display much like the first six games Baltimore played on the road to begin the year. The vibrant offensive potential, the speed on the bases, the stable starting pitching and the unpredictability of the bullpen.

It’s been this way for a week of baseball. It’ll likely be this way for six months of baseball. And on Friday, that combination equaled an exhilarating 7-6 win against the New York Yankees.

“Sometimes we play the Yankees here, and in the past few years it’s been quite a few Yankees fans,” Hyde said. “Tonight was definitely a Baltimore crowd all the way through.”

Fans make their way to their seats at Camden Yards before the Orioles’ home opener against divisional rivals, the New York Yankees. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

In Boston, during the opening weekend of the season, Baltimore immediately showed its ability to put crooked numbers on the board. But its bullpen covered 13 2/3 innings and allowed nine runs in the process. In Arlington, Texas, the Orioles pitching staff was buoyed by the strong performances of Tyler Wells, Kyle Gibson and Rodriguez.

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That brought them to Camden Yards with a .500 record — where they met a tangible excitement that first began last summer, when the Orioles embarked on a 10-game winning streak that ignited a surprising push toward a wild card playoff spot.

“That put us on the map nationally,” Hyde said.

When Yankees manager Aaron Boone was asked how long it would be before the Orioles are legitimate contenders in the American League East, he was unequivocal: “As far as I’m concerned,” Boone told reporters, “they’re a tough team to beat and are contenders now.”

In previous seasons, when Baltimore faced these AL East powerhouses, the crowds at Camden Yards might be split at best and dominated at worst by visiting fans. That wasn’t the case Friday, and right-hander Bryan Baker noticed straight away that “black and orange was kind of ruling the day.”

It was the largest home-opening crowd since Hyde arrived in 2019. And for the Orioles on the field to experience it, they hope it’s a sign of what’s to come the rest of the way.

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“That was great,” shortstop Jorge Mateo said. “Thanks to all the fans who come and watch this game. That’s amazing. I [have] never seen that here in Baltimore, and now we’ll start seeing it. It’s really an honor for me to start seeing that. ... We play from the heart, and the fans see that.”

The young talent, preparing for its first full season, will continue Baltimore’s sudden appearance on the major league radar. They showed why Friday, with Henderson’s RBI double in the third inning giving the Orioles a four-run lead that would dwindle into a deficit. Then Rutschman retied the game in the sixth with an opposite-field single.

There are, of course, 23 other players apart from the top prospects that have made headlines since they were drafted. Infielder Ramón Urías drove an RBI double in the seventh and Ryan Mountcastle scored on a wild pitch later in the frame.

Urías also completed a double play at third base in the eighth inning that emphasized why he earned a Gold Glove award in 2022, snaring a 105.4-mph grounder, stepping on third for a force out and then throwing across for the second.

“That’s Gold Glove right there, Papi,” Mateo said. “That’s not an easy play, but he made it look easy.”

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Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Dean Kremer (64) chats with catcher Adley Rutschman (35) as they walk off the field midway through the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Yankees on Friday, April 7, 2023. The Orioles hosted the Yankees for their home opener at Camden Yards. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Right-hander Dean Kremer pitched with the lead until he exited with no outs in the sixth inning, giving up only a three-run homer to Franchy Cordero in the fourth — allowing Cordero to enact some revenge against the team he tried and failed to make during spring training.

But an Orioles bullpen that has so far complicated many an outing did so again Friday, and then that same bullpen closed the door. One run had crossed in the eighth already with left-hander Cionel Pérez on the mound, leading to Baker’s insertion.

The crowd rose to their feet with a runner on third, two outs and two strikes to Isiah Kiner-Falefa. This is what they were waiting for. Good baseball, baseball that matters, baseball that’s exciting and competitive and vocal-cord straining.

Baker struck him out.

As Baker yelled, so did the crowd, 45,017 fans — plus one amped pitcher — roaring for baseball in Baltimore.

andy.kostka@thebaltimorebanner.com

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville. 

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