The Baltimore Orioles stole 14 bases in spring training, the fewest in the majors.
Then came Opening Day against the Red Sox on Thursday.
On your mark, get set, go. The Orioles stole five bases, all of them leading to runs in a game they won, 10-9.
“When we have an opportunity, we’re going to run,” Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde said.
Fenway Park was the land of opportunity. The Orioles stole one base off Sox starter Corey Kluber, three off Ryan Brasier and another off Kaleb Ort.
The pitch timer played a role as the Orioles took advantage of situations caused by the clock winding down. Cedric Mullins stole two bases and advanced another time on a wild pitch. Jorge Mateo also stole twice.
“Everyone was dealing with the clock in a real environment,” Sox catcher Reese McGuire said. “There were a few times that clock was winding down and it was almost as if they were using it to their advantage to kind of time it up.”
That was definitely what the Orioles were doing. All five times, their jumps were so well-timed that McGuire held the ball instead of throwing down.
Had the pitchers changed the tempo of their deliveries or come set then delivered a quick pitch, the Orioles might have hesitated. But the Sox never adjusted.
“We got exposed a little bit there today,” McGuire said.
It was part of an ugly day for Red Sox pitchers, who allowed 15 hits, walked nine, threw two wild pitches, and hit a batter.
“A lot of traffic, right?” manager Alex Cora said. “We’ve got to be better at that.”
Since the end of last season, the Sox have talked about the need to throw more strikes and be more efficient. Signing Kluber was supposed to be part of the solution.
But he was uncharacteristically wild, walking four over 3⅓ innings. The stoic righthander walked four once in 31 starts last season.
“I’d rather them beat me by earning it than me handing out free passes,” Kluber said. “That was unlike me today. I’ve got to make some adjustments for the next time.”
Don’t blame the bitterly cold weather. Six Baltimore pitchers combined for only three walks.
Kluber left the game with the bases loaded and Baltimore leading, 3-1. Zack Kelly came in and allowed a run on a wild pitch. He then walked Adley Rutschman and Ryan Mountcastle to force in another run.
Brasier took over in the fifth inning and got two outs before allowing three runs on two walks, two singles, and a wild pitch.
That had the crowd booing.
“They had their fastest guys on base and with two outs they’re trying to make things happen,” Brasier said. “Obviously you can always be quicker. There’s no excuse for giving up three walks. If I had given up no runs it still would have looked like crap.”
Brasier had the worst season of his career last year but the Sox stuck with him all winter, insisting that he pitched better than the results indicated.
That Brasier also was a well-above average reliever from 2018-21 helped his cause.
Far less understandable was the decision to retain Ort, a hard-throwing righthander who put a staggering 52 runners on base over 28⅓ innings last season then 21 more over 9⅓ innings during spring training.
Ort got through the sixth inning unscathed then allowed two runs in the seventh. Those insurance runs proved important to Baltimore when the Sox scored three in the eighth and two in the ninth.
“We’ve just got to get Kaleb going,” Cora said before the game. “Stuff-wise we always talk about it, right? He can throw 99 and 100 [miles per hour]. But in the end you’ve got to get people out.”
Hours later, Ort didn’t. That’s been his pattern.
At least Fenway Park looked nice. The field was in perfect shape and the Red Sox completely refurbished the home clubhouse, something that was long overdue. Even the press box was renovated with a new floor and chairs.
Nice to see the Sox investing all that money they saved by not signing All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts.
The Red Sox lost on Opening Day in 2004, ‘07 and ‘18, so one game doesn’t mean anything. But the lingering fear that the Sox don’t have enough pitching proved true on Thursday.