BOSTON — Baltimore Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman felt the Opening Day jitters. Last year was supposed to be his first season opener, but a right triceps strain delayed his debut until May. And so when he woke up on Thursday morning in Boston, hours away from first pitch, he felt the jitters up and down his body.
“I was hoping it would wait until I at least got to the field,” he said.
When the season officially kicked off, those jitters were nowhere to be found. Rutschman made a statement on Opening Day, going 5-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs, becoming the first player since 1937 to go 5-for-5 or better with a home run on Opening Day and the first catcher with five hits on Opening Day since at least 1900, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
The offensive outburst from Rutschman carried the Orioles’ offense for the day, as Baltimore left Fenway on Thursday with a 10-9 victory, thanks in large part to the catcher’s four RBIs and one run scored.
“The hits are awesome,” Rutschman said. “But the winning for me is more important.”
Orioles fans had been waiting for this. The years of losing, all for the promise that one day the team would turn things around with a plethora of young, homegrown talent. At the center of that is Rutschman, who shined once he made his major league debut in 2022. The switch-hitter slashed .254/.362/.445 with 13 homers, 35 doubles and 42 RBIs with 5.2 fWAR, the second-highest total for a catcher in the majors behind the Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto.
“There’s been a lot of great players who’ve worn this uniform,” said Orioles manager Brandon Hyde. “He’s gonna be the doing other things that are the first as well.”
For the Orioles, Rutschman represents hope for the future. After finishing in last place in four of the five seasons from 2017 through 2021, the Orioles surprisingly finished in fourth place in 2022 in large part due to the catcher’s contributions to the team. After Rutschman arrived in the big leagues in 2022, the team played at an 89-win pace, going 16-24 before his major league debut.
That impact shined on Thursday. On his first swing of the season, Rutschman launched a sinker from Red Sox starter Corey Kluber into the right-field seats at a projected 402 feet, making him the youngest Oriole to homer in the first at-bat of Opening Day since Cal Ripken Jr. in 1984. He singled in the third but was thrown out at second on an awkward slide that led to him kicking Red Sox second baseman Christian Arroyo in the head. After drawing a walk in the fourth, he gave the Orioles an 8-2 lead with a two-run single in the fifth. An RBI single followed in his next at-bat in the seventh, but Rutschman was thrown out at second again.
Rutschman reached on an infield single in the ninth in his final at-bat.
“Once I start playing the game, those kinds of things go away and I’m able to calm down and just play,” Rutschman said of his jitters. “I’m able to calm down and just play. But until those jets fly over and we get that first pitch, there’s definitely excitement.”
The only other catchers to reach base five or more times were Yogi Berra in 1956, Todd Hundley in 1995 and Jason Varitek in 2002. Rutschman — at 25 years, 52 days old — also became the youngest Orioles player since Adam Jones (24 year, 248 days) in 2010 to homer on Opening Day.
And while it’s just one game, the historic day for Rutschman represented why Baltimore can see the light at the end of the rebuilding tunnel. Reinforcements are coming, too, with infielder Gunnar Henderson believed to be a Rookie of the Year candidate and a pair of top prospects in pitcher Grayson Rodriguez and shortstop Jackson Holliday projected to be in the big leagues at some point in the next two seasons.
But for now, Rutschman is not thinking too far ahead, just trying to enjoy his first Opening Day in the big leagues. Hyde said he is not taking his star catcher for granted.
“He’s a super special player,” Hyde said. “A really good hitter, and he hasn’t played a full year yet. Good things coming.”