BOSTON — The ball sailed through the blustery, 38-degree air at Fenway Park, leaping off the bat at 104 mph and not finding a settling point until it was 402 feet away from impact. The left-handed swing that started it all was an ambush early in Thursday’s opening day from one of the ascending stars of the game.
Welcome to 2023, baseball.
Sincerely, Adley Rutschman.
The Orioles’ catcher produced the best opening day in the history of the organization Thursday. Baltimore beat the Boston Red Sox 10-9 — after nearly giving up a six-run lead by allowing five runs over the final two innings — and Rutschman became the first player in modern franchise history to reach base six times, with five hits and a walk, in the season’s opener. He displayed the tantalizing ability at the plate that could vault him into the upper echelon of major league players, let alone major league catchers.
“He’s going to be doing other things that are going to be firsts, as well,” manager Brandon Hyde said, “because he’s just a super-special player.”
So much has been made of the Orioles backstop. He was the center of attention during Baltimore’s visit to the Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Major League Baseball follows him with cameras, capturing a new face of the sport in a bid to engage fans with a youthful persona and flowing blonde hair. He has been billed as the centerpiece of the Orioles’ rebuild, a first-overall pick reaching maturity.
Rutschman has also performed, though, making all those exploits off the field worth it. Last season, he finished second in American League Rookie of the Year voting.
It all began in his first at-bat Thursday, when Rutschman saw a four-seam fastball from right-hander Corey Kluber on the inner third of the plate and left no doubt about where it would end up — well beyond Pesky’s Pole in right field. He became the youngest Oriole to homer on opening day since Adam Jones in 2010.
But in truth, the makings of that first at-bat started when Rutschman first woke up Thursday. He immediately felt the weight of the game, and while he didn’t know what would come next, his excitement was tangible.
“I was hoping it would wait at least until I got to the field,” Rutschman said, “but no, you wake up and you know it’s game day.”
Rutschman wasn’t alone in an offensive barrage, but his efforts stood out because everything he does has stood out since he was selected with the first pick of executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias’ regime.
For all the impressive feats Rutschman posted as a rookie, what he did Thursday bested them all. He posted a career-high five hits and four RBIs.
“He hasn’t even played a full year yet,” Hyde said, “so, good things coming.”
After that long ball, Rutschman singled four times and drew a walk — becoming the first catcher to reach base six times in his first opening day appearance.
According to Stathead, only two other catchers have recorded at least four hits and four RBIs on opening day: Yogi Berra in 1956 and Todd Hundley in 1995. And per ESPN, Rutschman is the third player to go 5-for-5 with multiple RBIs on opening day since 1920, including Hall-of-Famers Billy Herman and Babe Ruth.
“It’s crazy,” Rutschman said. “First opening day, being able to come out here. Like I said, the hits are awesome, but the winning for me is more important. But definitely a cool thing to have.”
Not to be lost in the mix, of course, were his nine innings behind the plate that included catching five solid frames from right-hander Kyle Gibson, who found opening day redemption in his second career opportunity in the role.
Gibson finished with four runs against him, bucking a 2021 opening day meltdown in which he gave up five runs and recorded one out for the Texas Rangers. Gibson used double-play balls to get through the fourth and fifth innings with limited damage against him.
“I exponentially raised my outs gotten on opening day, so that’s good,” Gibson said wryly.
The Red Sox chipped away late against the Orioles’ bullpen, scoring three runs against right-hander Bryan Baker. Félix Bautista pitched the ninth and gave up two runs, one earned, before striking out Adam Duvall on three pitches — the final one a splitter that drifted away from the right-hander’s swing.
Hyde said the cold weather made pitching a difficult construct Thursday, although Gibson said a 28-degree start for the Minnesota Twins a few years ago was the coldest he had experienced. In comparison, when Gibson stood in the sun at Fenway Park, “that was enjoyable today,” he said.
But Baltimore gave its pitching staff that room to operate by blitzing the Boston pitching staff. The Orioles stole five bases, Ramón Urías cranked a two-run homer over the Green Monster, and then there was Rutschman.
“What a great start,” Gibson said. “Can’t draw it up any better.”
The 25-year-old did things Thursday that have never been seen before.
As he settles into his place in the league as an emerging star, Rutschman did everything on the field to justify the cameras following an otherwise soft-spoken player. He prefers to let the bat do the talking, and it talked and talked and talked on opening day.