Finally, There’s Reason to Believe in the Orioles Again

The O's thrilling Opening Day win, plus a fresh roster of twenty-something talents, fuels excitement amongst fans and staff.

After the Orioles postponed their home opener by 24 hours to Friday in expectation of severe storms that never quite came (what’s the deal with weatherpeople?), O’s manager Brandon Hyde had some unexpected time to enjoy around Camden Yards on Thursday night. So he casually played catch on the field and took a walk outside the stadium. When he was recognized on his stroll, he felt and heard the optimism.


“There’s a lot more people that come up to you in a positive way about your club,” Hyde said a few hours before the O’s first home game against the New York Yankees on Friday, as fans started to enter the stadium. He chuckled at the thought, emoting the obvious fact that optimism has not been at the forefront of the Baltimore baseball story since he took over as manager before the 2019 season.

Not his fault—it was all part of the rebuilding plan. But good vibes started to bounce around Oriole Park in the second half of last season, when prized former No. 1 overall draft pick, catcher Adley Rutschman, and 12 other prospects made their major league debuts. The O’s went on a midsummer, 10-game winning streak that caught a lot of people’s attention and finished with a winning record.

It’s the following spring now, and “people are excited to watch us play,” Hyde said. “That’s exciting for our players, coaches, and everybody in our clubhouse.”

The buildup to the Orioles home opener and their thrilling 7-6 win over the Yankees on Friday screams that the start of this year is already a little bit different than the last few, mercifully, given the multiple 100-plus loss seasons in our recent memory. Just seven games into this season, and with one home game in the books, this is certainly the first time the O’s have had any kind of expectations for a good season (a great season! maybe even the playoffs?!) since the end of the Buck Showalter era five years ago. And it’s early yet, but the O’s have a 4-3 record.

To start the home season, an announced sellout crowd of more than 45,000 fans had plenty to celebrate.

Rookie Gunnar Henderson helped give the Orioles an early 4-0 lead with a pair of key hits, and starting pitcher Dean Kremer was solid through five-plus innings. Both the O’s and Yankees turned things over to the bullpens in what became a nip-and-tuck game the rest of the way. Third baseman Ramon Urias came up clutch with a pair of the game’s most important plays: an RBI double off of a pitch from Yankees reliever Jimmy Cordero that thudded off the left field wall gave the O’s a 6-5 lead in the seventh inning. Then, Urias scored on a Cordero wild pitch two batters later.

In the top of the eighth that followed, Urias, a reigning Gold Glove winner, picked a line drive and turned a double play. And after that, relief pitcher Bryan Baker got an inning-ending strikeout with most of the fans at Camden Yards on their feet (no Yankees dominance in the crowd anymore) and New York trailing by one. Then, closer Felix Bautista got the save in the ninth to clinch the win in the Orioles’ 70th home opener in franchise history.

“That was one of the best crowds I’ve played in front of,” Baker said afterward. “It was electric from the start. We kind of let them back into it, and took that lead again. Feeding off [the crowd’s] energy is something that we can definitely use.”

What happens over the length of another 182-game season remains to be seen. But there’s hope—no, belief—for good things again with a crew of twenty-something talents like the 25-year-old Rutschman and even younger 21-year-old infielder Henderson, who each made their O’s home-opener debuts on Friday.

“I’m just going to take it all in,” said Henderson, the consensus top prospect in all of Major League Baseball when he was in the minor-leagues. Those days are long gone.

Henderson didn’t even play the field—he was the O’s designated hitter—yet, he made a huge impact. He got the O’s first hit and scored their first run in the second inning. Then, he smacked a double to left-centerfield to make it 4-0 in the third. He celebrated with a sprinkler dance move, which was coordinated with teammates in the dugout spitting water onto the Oriole Park dirt in front of them.

“When I got my hit, I was kind of blacked out, I didn’t really hear anything whenever I was running,” Henderson said. “But when I got to sit there and take it all in, it was really loud and really awesome.”

It was an exciting game from start to finish. A few other highlights: Kremer, fresh off pitching for Team Israel last month in the World Baseball Classic, struck out Yankees super-slugger Aaron Judge on an off-speed pitch in the top of the first inning. Rutschman threw out a runner after a Kremer strikeout for a double play to end the top of the third. Then Rutschman knocked in speedy shortstop Jorge Mateo from third to tie the score at five in the sixth frame after the O’s bullpen gave up some mid-game runs. And there was reliever Cionel Pérez’ 1-2-3 inning right after that, to set up the electric finish. (Of course, we also got to hear the echoing “O!” during the national anthem, fans going wild when relish beat ketchup and mustard in the middle of the fifth inning, and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” in the seventh-inning stretch.)

“You want your fanbase to feel good about their team,” Hyde said. “You want people to be excited. It’s uplifting for the city, too, when we’re fun to watch and people are following us and like our players. That’s really important.”

It’s taken several years—and a once-in-a-century pandemic—but a competitive product can be expected every game now. “We exceeded expectations, by a lot,” Hyde said about last season, when the O’s finished 83-79 and in fourth place in the American League East. They lost two-thirds of their games in the three years before that, with a shortened 2020 season among them, and a franchise-worst 115 in 2018 when the O’s starting trading off anyone with value.

Manny Machado is a distant memory. Trey Mancini is playing elsewhere now, too. New names are in every part of the locker room, and there’s literally a fresh look in the O’s clubhouse beneath Camden Yards’ first-baseline stands. Devotees of the various Oriole Bird designs over the years might enjoy this: A giant graphic of the angry bird version is now in one corner of the O’s locker room, and hard-scrabble-looking, dark gray brick team graphics cover the walls, as opposed to the plain white walls that were there before. Maybe there’s some symbolism in the design. Finally, the Orioles are off to an exciting start again.

“There’s still a long way to go,” Hyde said. “There’s a lot of things that can happen in the next almost six months…I think we’re more talented, but we also play in a really, really tough division. We’re very aware of that, and I don’t want our guys to think about last year or raising expectations for themselves, except to try to go win every single night.”

For the first time in a long time, the idea actually doesn’t sound far-fetched.