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‘He’s going to do great here’: AL East’s new ace dominates Opening Day

Anthony Rendon froze, helpless to avoid his fate as Burnes’ 11th strikeout, and as the right-hander walked off the mound, the crowd of 45,029 stirred.

Slowly, they rose to their feet, a far from thunderous roar given that the Baltimore Orioles held a six-run lead over the Los Angeles Angels, but an acknowledgement that what they’d seen was significant.

Burnes is an Oriole, and in his first outing in the American League, served notice that a 101-win team might indeed be the pennant favorite with his considerable talents in tow.

He gave up a first-inning home run to the generational Mike Trout, and then did not permit another Angel to reach base the rest of the day, using a devastating four-pitch mix to push the Orioles to an 11-3 victory in their 2024 opener.

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Sure, he’s new to the AL, but Burnes was no secret: The 2021 National League Cy Young Award winner had struck out at least 200 batters the past three seasons, including an NL-best 243 in 2022. His January acquisition from the Milwaukee Brewers gave the Orioles what they lacked: A true ace, one who could set the tone in Game 1 of the season or Game 1 of a far more significant series, months later.

Consider the former assignment completed to near perfection.

“Couldn’t have asked for anything more than that,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “Maybe one bad pitch through six innings. Just an awesome, awesome performance.

“That’s not easy to do – a new team, Opening Day, a lot of jitters, probably pretty anxious. To go out and do what he did, that’s really impressive.”

It was Burnes’ first win in three career Opening Day assignments, and he joined Bob Gibson as the only pitchers to strike out 11 with no walks and one or fewer runs allowed in an opener.

To call it Gibson-esque might be a stretch. Yet Burnes’ finest weapon, a cutter that touches 96 mph on the radar gun, was on full display.

After Trout golfed a homer off his slider in the first inning, Burnes fired three straight cutters at Trout in the fourth inning. The three-time MVP looked at the first two and flailed at the third.

The next batter, Taylor Ward, ran the count full before flailing at a curveball, epitomizing the pick-your-poison quandary for a hitter facing Burnes.

They swung eight times at Burnes’ curve, whiffing six times and looking at seven more called strikes. Fifty-six of his 82 pitches were strikes, and his 11-0 strikeout-walk ratio was no accident: His 6.88 rate for the 2021 season led the major leagues.

“That was a pleasure to play behind. That was unbelievable,” Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle said.

Meanwhile, Anthony Santander hit a two-run homer and Cedric Mullins a three-run shot, while Adley Rutschman enjoyed his second dominant Opening Day in as many outings, scoring three runs and hitting a two-run single.

The potent offense – which was swept out of the AL Division Series by the eventual champion Texas Rangers in October – now has a bona fide ace alongside, a symbiotic relationship just blooming.

“He’s going to do great here,” says Santander.

Burnes saved one of his best deliveries for last when he punched out Rendon, knowing that was likely the capper for his afternoon. As debuts go – in a new league, no less – it couldn’t have gone much better.

“I knew I was at the end there,” he said of the fans rising to their feet. “I knew it was a good start. The fan base was great today – sellout crowd, they were loud. It was a great atmosphere, a fun Opening Day.”

And it looked an awful lot like a prelude to much bigger things.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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