Welcome to the 2021 ESPYS presented by Capital One, where you, the fans, get to help decide the stars of the show (aka the award winners). Cast your vote for Best Jockey below — the nominees are Irad Ortiz Jr., John Velazquez, Flavien Prat and Joel Rosario — and tune in to the ESPYS on July 10 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
Rutschman carries O’s in historic 5-for-5 opener
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.”
Judge launches 2023’s first homer in opening AB
NEW YORK — Yankees fans did not have to wait long for reigning American League MVP Aaron Judge‘s first home run of the 2023 season.
In the first inning on Opening Day, Judge saw a 93 mph sinker from San Francisco Giants ace Logan Webb and deposited it 422 feet over the Yankee Stadium center-field wall for his first home run of the year, his first one as Yankees captain and the first one leaguewide in 2023.
He later added a single as the Yankees rolled to a 5-0 victory.
Before taking the field Thursday, Judge had joked about Major League Baseball scheduling a Giants-Yankees Opening Day matchup for the first time ever, putting him up against the team that he rooted for growing up in Northern California and also pursued him in free agency as much as the Yankees did.
“I don’t know who at MLB did that to me,” Judge said with a smile, “but it’s great. Logan Webb’s a great pitcher, he’s had a couple great years, and looking forward to many more out of him. But it’s going to be a fun afternoon, that’s for sure, getting a chance to play the team I watched a lot as a kid.”
Judge had considered joining the Giants in the offseason before signing a nine-year, $360 million deal to remain with the Yankees.
“It was kind of a dream come true getting a chance to speak with them and get an opportunity to go there,” Judge said of the Giants. “But in the end, it just worked out for me to come back to the Yankees, and I’m happy with my decision.”
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said before the game that the “low point” of his winter was when he thought that Judge would sign with San Francisco.
“One of my lowest, darkest places this winter was when I thought maybe it was in jeopardy that he was coming back,” Boone said. “For whatever period of time, that was one of the darkest places I went, was picturing him on that third-base line in a Giants uniform on Opening Day. That’s something that was not a good thought or picture.”
In 2022, Judge was voted AL MVP after threatening for the Triple Crown, finishing first in home runs (62) and RBIs (131) and second in batting average (.311), recording an inordinate 1.111 OPS and breaking Roger Maris’ 61-year-old AL home run mark.
Before the game, Judge made sure to shift the focus on any expectations of another 60-homer season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the last player with even back-to-back 45-homer seasons was Ryan Howard, who surpassed that total in four straight years from 2006 to 2009.
“I know very few followed up with 60. A couple I know hit 50 after that. But we’ll see what happens,” Judge said. “Maybe we can make a new list. We’ll see.”
Pitcher Gerrit Cole also had a banner 2023 debut on his fourth Opening Day start in pinstripes, striking out 11 Giants through six innings to set a franchise record previously held by Tim Leary (9 strikeouts, 1991). Webb also set a Giants Opening Day record when he recorded his 12th strikeout in the sixth inning.
Rockies closer Bard starting on IL due to anxiety
Colorado Rockies closer Daniel Bard will open the season on the injured list because of anxiety.
“From my experience, knowing myself, I think just taking a step back, taking time to work through things, get it right, is the best approach,” Bard told reporters Thursday, according to MLB.com.
The 37-year-old Bard was a member of Team USA at the just-completed World Baseball Classic, but control issues in a game against Venezuela included an inside pitch to Jose Altuve that broke the hand of the Houston Astros second baseman.
Bard was a standout reliever for the Boston Red Sox early in his career, posting a 1.93 ERA in 73 outings during his second major league season in 2010. But control issues surfaced, and after two outings in 2013, he stepped away from the game.
“It’s a hard thing to admit. But I’ve been through this before,” Bard told reporters Thursday, adding that he’s grateful to the Rockies for being understanding and accepting of his situation.
The Rockies gave Bard a look in spring training in 2020, and he made the roster, returning to his standout ways last season when he had a 1.79 ERA in 57 outings and finished 16th in National League MVP voting.
But in the fifth inning for Team USA against Venezuela, Bard gave up a walk and a single, threw a wild pitch, hit Altuve and issued a walk to force in a run. He ended up charged with four runs on one hit and two walks, while not recording an out.
“I can’t speak for Daniel because I’m just observing from 3,000 miles away, but I think he might have gotten caught up in the moment,” Rockies manager Bud Black said after the outing. “He’s pitching for his country in front of a big crowd. He only had three or four outings with us this spring and Daniel’s got a lot of moving parts in his delivery. He was just out of whack.”
Jake Bird, 27, is taking Bard’s spot on the roster. Bird made his major league debut last season, going 2-4 with a 4.91 ERA in 38 relief appearances.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas, who signed a minor league deal with Colorado late in the spring, also was named to the Rockies’ Opening Day roster.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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