HomeTrending MLB NewsHaving an Actual Ace Is Pretty Sweet, Isn’t It?

Having an Actual Ace Is Pretty Sweet, Isn’t It?

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Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

It was the dawn of a new era in Baltimore, as the new owners made their first real impression on their new adoring public. Michael Arougheti bought a round at the bar. David Rubenstein visited the MASN booth and held forth on the Magna Carta with Ben McDonald; the conversation had to drift that far afield because Rubenstein’s two-inning television appearance was extended when Patrick Sandoval simply could not get out of the inning. Before Rubenstein left, he asked (I’m choosing to interpret this as a sick burn rather than a genuine point of inquiry) if MLB had a mercy rule.

The Orioles won 11-3. Every Baltimore starting position player reached base and either scored or drove in a run; eight of the nine recorded at least one hit. And only three of the 10 hits went for extra bases. This was one of those methodical conga line outings in which the Orioles won not so much by knockout as by submission. Had the norms of the game allowed the Angels to tap out without shame, they might’ve done so.

I want to show you, somewhat paradoxically, a home run by Mike Trout.

This came with two outs in the first inning. Baltimore starter Corbin Burnes, well to be totally frank, he hung a slider pretty badly, and you can’t do that to Trout. If the Millville Meteor had yanked the ball just a little more to the pull side, it might’ve died for an out in the Gleyber Torres Memorial Cutout in left field at Camden Yards. Instead, it went for a home run.

I show you this because Trout’s home run was Burnes’ only blemish in his Orioles debut. He retired the other 18 batters he faced, 11 of them on strikeouts. Let’s put that in perspective. The last Orioles pitcher to allow one baserunner or less in a start of six or more innings was Matt Harvey in 2021, which, sweet mother of Mercy, that’s not the answer I was expecting. The John Means no-hitter was earlier that season.

But after that, the list thins out considerably. Burnes is just the eighth Orioles starter to go six innings and allow one baserunner since the team moved to Baltimore in 1954. Two of the other pitchers on the list are Mike Mussina and Jim Palmer.

And Burnes did it in his first start with the Orioles.

That’s not particularly uncommon for Burnes. This was the eighth start of his career (out of 168) with six innings pitched and one or zero hits allowed. It’s the third start of that length with only one baserunner allowed.

The Angels don’t have the strongest lineup in the sport by any means, but they’ve got some decent hitters. If post-comeback Miguel Sanó pans out, this is a lineup without a real no-hoper. And Burnes worked through it with all the ceremony of a man eating a Toblerone. Any Burnes start features death by a thousand cutters, but his greatest weapons on Opening Day were his two breaking balls.

Burnes threw 16 sliders, of which three were put in play. That included the Trout home run and the other moderately dangerous batted ball the Angels produced: a sixth-inning fly out by Logan O’Hoppe. O’Hoppe also popped up on a slider in the third.

And those were the only three breaking balls the Angels put in play all afternoon. Burnes threw 36 breaking balls, got 10 called strikes, 15 swings, 10 whiffs, two foul tips, two field outs, and Trout’s home run.

This being the first week of the season, Brandon Hyde lifted his ace after just 82 pitches with the Orioles leading 8-1. No need to put unnecessary strain on the most precious arm this team has had since Mussina left.

We know what the Orioles’ young lineup can do. We know the quality of this bullpen, and the baserunning, and so on. And I like the rest of Baltimore’s starters. Grayson Rodriguez could be really good, and I think both Means and Kyle Bradish (once they come back) are highly underrated pitchers.

But it’s been more than 20 years since a good Orioles team has had anyone like Burnes. A legitimate ace, a playoff stopper. When I was at Camden Yards for the ALDS last year, I was impressed by the depth and resiliency of Baltimore’s hitters, but I was appalled by how completely its starting pitchers and long relievers — including Bradish and Rodriguez — got whittled down to smooth nubs by a patient Rangers lineup. They needed an asskicker, badly, and they got one.

Burnes, ironically, had seen his Brewers bounced from the first round four times in five seasons. In that time, Milwaukee managed a total of one win and 16 runs scored over nine games. As badly as the Orioles have needed a true no. 1 starter, Burnes has needed an offense that could score — to pick a number out of thin air — 11 runs against an opponent’s Opening Day starter.

I think back to those scenes from earlier in the day. It’s great that Rubenstein can talk about his blue-collar childhood spent in local public schools. (And for the record, I have never heard someone with such a thick Baltimore accent talk about how they worked in the White House and served as chairman of the board of trustees at Duke.) It’s even better that Arougheti is handing out free beer, and that the new ownership group has mended fences with Cal Ripken Jr.

These are necessary steps toward building credibility with a fan base that had been tormented by the stewardship of Gob and Buster Angelos for too long. But once the honeymoon phase dries up, Orioles fans will care most of all about whether the team wins. This is every sports fan’s primary concern, from sea to shining sea. And it’ll be there that Rubenstein’s reputation is made, for good or ill.

Want to prove you’re serious about winning? Don’t let Burnes make it to free agency. Don’t let the pitcher this team has been chasing for decades walk after one year. It’s only been one start, but I’ve seen enough.

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