The final Opening Day at Memorial Stadium featured large displays of pomp and circumstance, though the circumstances were not quite what the Baltimore Orioles had in mind.
Vice President Dan Quayle threw out the first pitch and there was enough military manpower on the field before the game to take Towson without a fight, but the Orioles only had enough fight in them for one inning.
The Chicago White Sox pounced on an early mistake and then pounded out a 9-1 victory before a sellout crowd of 50,213 vocal locals, most of whom had come to see it happen the other way around.
The wrong Sammy hit two home runs. Sam Horn could not duplicate last year's two-shot performance on Opening Day, but White Sox right fielder Sammy Sosa hit a three-run homer off Orioles starter Jeff Ballard in the second inning and a bases-empty shot off reliever Paul Kilgus in the eighth to highlight a three-hit, five-RBI afternoon.
This was supposed to be the exciting debut of the new-look Orioles offense, but right-hander Jack McDowell left it looking a lot like last year's model. He went all the way and gave up just four hits, the only one that mattered an RBI double by newcomer Glenn Davis in the first inning.
Ballard did not pitch poorly, but an error by third baseman Craig Worthington helped set up Sosa's three-run shot, and then there was the matter of getting the last out of the sixth inning. Seven White Sox hitters reached base after there were two out to score five times and break the game open.
"I pitched well into the sixth," said Ballard, who became the Opening Day starter after right-hander Ben McDonald came up with a sore elbow in spring training. "I'd take that stuff every time out. If I throw that way every start, I'm going to win a lot of games."
Manager Frank Robinson did not argue the point, though he is less liberal about separating performance from results. Ballard did give up four straight hits after there were two out in the sixth. He did give up six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings.
"Until he tried to get that last out of the sixth inning, I thought he threw very well," Robinson said. "I have no quarrel with the first 5 2/3 innings."
McDowell made that inning irrelevant with an overpowerin performance that included 10 strikeouts and only one walk. The game was decided when Sosa lined a high changeup over the left-field fence in the second. Ballard had given up only one hit to that point, but Worthington complicated the situation when he lost the handle on a possible double-play ball just before Sosa arrived at the plate.
Worthington ranged far to his left to field the ball, but it popped out of his hand as he came up to make the relay to second. The Opening Day adrenalin had to be flowing, but Robinson didn't have to dig that deep to explain the club's first costly defensive lapse of the season.
"The first game of the season didn't have anything to do with it," he said. "He [Worthington] was just trying to do too much with it. He wasn't going to get the double play there."
First impressions aren't everything, though everyone in the Orioles clubhouse would like to have made a better one. Each game carries the same importance in the standings, but it's always nice to do well when everybody's looking.
"There is a lot of importance put on Opening Day," Robinson said. "Hopefully, you can get away with the win, but we didn't do that, so we'll have to be happy to have it behind us and come
out Wednesday night and try again."
It was not all futility and frustration. Davis made his Orioles debut and doubled home the first run of the game in the first inning. The crowd, which had welcomed him warmly during pre-game introductions, went wild, but would not be heard from again until left-hander Mike Flanagan, 39, opened his return engagement in Baltimore with a perfect ninth inning.
Davis said he was touched by the reception, but found it hard to enjoy his first game at Memorial Stadium.
"I think we all had a tough day in general," he said. "The name of the game is winning. But you can't make judgments off one game. We've got 161 left."
Dwight Evans also made his Orioles debut, and he did it in right field, but he came up empty in four at-bats against McDowell. There was a lot of that going around.
The White Sox starter bore little resemblance to the pitcher who gave up three runs over two innings in an 8-0 loss to the Orioles on the first day of the exhibition season. He was not threatened after the first inning and retired the last eight batters he faced on the way to his first victory over Baltimore since 1988.
"He really stuck it to us," hitting coach Tom McCraw said. "He looked like he was using his forkball very well. He got ahead of the hitters, and he settled down after he got the lead."