15. Baltimore Orioles vs. Boston Red Sox (Monday, March 31 – 3:05 PM – 2-1)
To be perfectly honest, it would take a unique set of circumstances for an Opening Day win at home to not make the top 15 or 20 in a list of best games of the season in any year.
Opening Day at home is special. Even at 30-years old, I feel like a little kid on Christmas morning. Back at Camden Yards for the first time in months and a clean slate of a season ahead stirs up pure euphoria in any baseball fan. Add on a win in front of a guaranteed sellout crowd and that game is sure to remembered fondly against all the other games of a particular season. The Orioles winning their Opening Day game at home in 2014 was probably enough to get it on the list even if it had nothing else for it.
This particular Opening Day win, however, did come with some additional highlights that puts it over the top.
Although 2014 did not work out too well for the Red Sox, on Opening Day they were the “defending” World Series Champions. It was a tough draw for sure. If this were high school football, the Orioles would have never signed for that tough of an opponent for what is basically baseball’s version of the homecoming game. As mentioned in Game #16 and #17 on this list, a win over Boston is always nice. A Opening Day win over Boston in their first game after winning the World Series? Priceless.
If you believe in the ability to set the tone for the rest of the season with strong performances in the very first game, then there was certainly a lot of that here.
Chris Tillman had a strong – albeit abbreviated – five inning outing. Tillman allowed just one run on a solo homerun in the 4th while scattering seven hits. It was a sign of things to come for the non-glamorous but very effective rotation the Birds relied on throughout the 2014 season. Zach Britton – working long relief on Opening Day about six weeks before becoming the fulltime closer – was brilliant in his two innings of work.
The biggest “season tone setting” moment also happened to be the biggest moment of the game. With the score knotted at one in the seventh inning, Boston starter Jon Lester returned to the mound to face Nelson Cruz. Cruz had quite a bit of success in his career against Lester up to that point so the decision by Boston to leave Lester in the game was a bit curious. Cruz made sure that Boston fans would second-guess the decision by depositing the first pitch of the inning into the lower left field seats for a solo homerun. The blast gave the O’s the 2-1 lead – a lead which they would never relinquish.
For getting the season off on the right foot in memorable fashion, Opening Day is the 15th best Orioles game of 2014.