BOSTON — Before Brandon Hyde’s Orioles opened their season with a chilly, 10-9 win over the Red Sox, he said the only thing that ultimately mattered in a season of heightened expectations was whether his players ultimately competed and won the game in front of them.
After? His desires were a bit more tangible.
“I definitely need some hot chocolate, and some lip therapy — and some lotion for my face,” he said. “I feel like my lips are about to fall off right now.”
In between, he saw in real time all the aspects that could make this team one of baseball’s most exciting — the potential for a disciplined and powerful offensive group, impossible-to-deal-with speed on the bases, and solid starting pitching — as well as early faults in the defense and relief pitching that made their 2022 breakout possible.
That they won will be what they take from it, the first of the maybe 90 they’ll need to comfortably secure a playoff spot. And how they won won’t soon be forgotten.
Adley Rutschman’s first-inning home run to start his historic opening day was a dream start. They built on that in a patient fourth inning off Corey Kluber that featured a Ramón Urías home run and four walks. They walked eight times on the day, and when the likes of Jorge Mateo and Cedric Mullins reached, they ran.
Each had a pair of steals, taking advantage of their natural talent and new rules to help encourage the running game. They didn’t need much prompting.
Hyde said: “When we have the opportunity to run, we’re going to run. We have some guys that can run. We’ve got two of the better guys in baseball, for me, in Cedric and Jorge. Gunnar is going to steal bases — you saw Adam Frazier, smart baserunner, get a huge jump on one. We like to be aggressive, and we’re going to be aggressive with the lead, for sure.”
They had the lead because of that comprehensive offensive performance — only Austin Hays failed to reach, and all the other starters did at least twice — and the reliability of Kyle Gibson, who pitched into the sixth and used some timely double-play balls to keep Boston down.
At 8-2 in the sixth, though, the challenges mounted. Last year, with Jorge López and then Félix Bautista locking down the back-end of the bullpen and Dillon Tate and Cionel Pérez as consistent as they come in set-up roles, the Orioles’ felt comfortable late in games. But on opening day this year, given Tate’s elbow injury and knee soreness from free agent Mychal Givens, this group is quite unsettled at this early stage of the season.
Keegan Akin allowed two of Gibson’s inherited runs, Perez gave them a scoreless seventh, then Bryan Baker allowed three runs in the eighth before rookie Logan Gillaspie ended the eighth with a crucial strikeout. Bautista was wild in the ninth, allowing two runs thanks to a Jorge Mateo throwing error on what would have been an inning-ending double play, but they survived.
Gillaspie and Mike Baumann could grow into crucial roles in the bullpen, but navigating the path to Bautista could be an adventure for Hyde going forward. He felt like Thursday’s circumstances didn’t give a full picture of how the group could shake out.
“I was talking to [bench coach Fredi González], it’s a very rare game where you have every single player available, every single bullpen arm available with an off day the next day as well,” he said. “You’re not really sure about roles, and how guys are throwing — because spring training can really fool you in so many ways. But you saw the guys that threw at the end with Cionel, Bake, and Bautista, guys that did the job for us really well last year. ‘Bake’ got kind of, for me, squeezed on [ball four] to [Justin] Turner which kind of affected the inning a lot. Cionel was unbelievable, but Gillaspie, that’s a huge, huge punchout there — possible game-changing strikeout. Félix had the shortened spring training and it’s 20 degrees out there, can’t really get the grip for the split it seemed like. But we got through it.”
He had less explanation for what happened to the defense that was such a point of pride in 2022. Mateo’s error raised the stakes in the ninth to a level no one in gray was comfortable with. And before that, all three outfielders — Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays, then Anthony Santander — misjudged balls in the air and weren’t able to make plays on them.
“I just — I don’t know,” Hyde said. “Possibly it was cold with shadows, but I’m not really sure.”
He probably doesn’t expect it to be a problem. He will likely close his eyes tonight, after his hot chocolate and newly-revealed skin care routine, and wonder if the bullpen will be, though. But he’ll be doing so with the knowledge that, on their day, his team can do a lot of things to help them win on a given night. However tense, the first one is out of the way.