Big deal or not, Loewen (1-0) lived dangerously and only had one inning in which he didn't allow a baserunner -- and that was his last inning. Perhaps his best piece of pitching came in the third, when New York (1-2) loaded the bases with one out. Armed with a three-run cushion, Loewen escaped on a popup and a ground ball.
"He did pretty well. I think he got stronger at the end," said manager Sam Perlozzo. "He came in after five, and I had pretty much made up my mind that he was done. He came in and said, 'I'm just now getting loose.' ... He's smart enough where he doesn't give in out there. I think that's what helps his success."
The Yankees got just one hit after that rally, and Loewen exited on a high note by retiring the side in order in the fifth. The left-hander gave up five hits and walked three batters, but he also stranded five runners in scoring position.
"Two years ago, I had a lot of practice with runners on base because of my lack of control," he said with a deadpan delivery. "It really doesn't bother me when some guys get on. I think I can focus on it a little more, but again, our team made some outstanding defensive plays behind me. That's what kept us in it."
Both of New York's runs against Loewen came on a two-run double by second baseman Robinson Cano in the second inning. Loewen stranded Cano on third in that inning, then stranded three runners in the second and two more in the fourth. He got consecutive ground balls in the fourth inning, when the Yankees had runners on second and third.
Mussina wasn't as fortunate. The right-hander gave up two runs in the first inning, three runs in the third and one more in the fourth. In total, he allowed 11 baserunners in four innings. Right fielder Nick Markakis struck first for the Orioles with a two-run double in the first inning, and left fielder Jay Gibbons added a two-run single in the third.
"Hanging curveball. First pitch. Ambush," said Gibbons, succinctly summarizing his base hit. "I don't have a clue at the plate, and I was looking for anything up. And he threw it."
Center fielder Corey Patterson drove in a run on a double, and Baltimore's final run scored in the fifth, when Aubrey Huff got a key two-out hit. The rest of the game was spent ducking and covering, and the road team's relief staff played a huge role. The Orioles used five relievers to end the game, but only one of them was on the team last year.
"They come from winners," Perlozzo said of his imported relievers, who cost more than $40 million on the open market. "They come from teams that had been in playoffs and been on good teams. I didn't expect them to fold."
First, John Parrish came in and pitched an effective inning, but a double error by shortstop Miguel Tejada led to New York's third run. The Yankees made things interesting in the seventh by notching two singles off Chad Bradford, then southpaw specialist Jamie Walker came in to strike out a batter and walk the bases full.
Walker allowed a run-scoring single after that, but he got Cano to pop out with the bases loaded. After that, Danys Baez pitched a perfect eighth and closer Chris Ray clamped down in the ninth for his first save.
"That's what we paid for," Gibbons said of the bullpen. "We got our starter to give us some strong innings, and we got our bullpen to lock it down."
"We pitched really well with runners in scoring position," added Loewen. "And when our backs were against the wall, we really beared down and got the next guy out. That's the sign of a good pitching staff."
Ray, who saved 33 of his 38 chances last year, wasn't challenged. The right-hander got all three outs on fly balls, and none of them forced his outfielders to break into a sprint. And he did that against the heart of New York's order -- right fielder Bobby Abreu, third baseman Alex Rodriguez and designated hitter Jason Giambi.
"The first one is always important to start the season off on a good note," Loewen said. "So getting out there and having the bullpen behind me to keep the lead feels good, and I think it feels good to the bullpen as a whole."