The Baltimore Orioles toured Florida for nearly a month this spring, breaking batting records along the way and building momentum for a 1991 season that was supposed to be a non-stop hit parade.
It still could turn out that way, but the Orioles will have to go back on the road to find out. Their two-game homestand featured just one run and ended with their new-look lineup stuck in a 17-inning scoreless streak.
Chicago White Sox left-hander Greg Hibbard pitched eight shutout innings last night, and second baseman Scott Fletcher had three hits -- as many as the Orioles -- in a 2-0 victory before 24,973 freezing fans at a wind-chill factory called Memorial Stadium.
It was a miserable night for baseball. It would have been a miserable night for dogsled racing for that matter, but Hibbard held the Orioles to three hits before turning the game over to White Sox stopper Bobby Thigpen. The rest shouldn't be too hard to figure out.
Thigpen, who saved a major-league record 57 games last year, saved his first of 1991 as the Sox completed the short sweep and sent the Orioles off to Texas to begin a six-game trip tomorrow at Arlington Stadium.
Fletcher provided all the offensive support Hibbard needed with a hooking two-run double to right-center field in the sixth inning. He also singled twice, giving him four hits and four RBI in the first two games of the season.
Orioles starter Jose Mesa worked a solid six innings, but he allowed a walk and two hits after there were two out in the sixth inning, more than enough to assure him of the loss in his 1991 debut.
"I felt pretty good," Mesa said, "but sometimes you try to be too perfect and you walk a couple of guys and give up a couple of hits. I still thought I threw the ball pretty good for the first time out."
Manager Frank Robinson spent two days answering questions about the predominantly right-handed lineup he used against White Sox right-hander Jack McDowell on Opening Day, as if he had the option of stacking the lineup with left-handed hitters.
But there was no question what he would do with a left-handed starter on the mound for the opposition. He went with an entirely right-handed lineup that included rookie Leo Gomez as the designated hitter and Chris Hoiles making his first start behind the plate.
If that was supposed to strike fear into Hibbard's heart, it did not have the desired effect. The Orioles have yet to unveil the explosive offensive machine that pounded out a record number of hits and home runs in spring training. They have just seven hits in two games.
"The hitters are trying to do too much," Robinson said. "We have some new guys in the lineup, and they want to show what they can do. Maybe when we go out on the road, they can relax a little and come back here on a roll.
"There's no doubt in my mind we are going to hit and score runs. We just have to hit and get it going."
The Orioles almost got it going in the fifth, when they loaded the bases with one out, but Hibbard struck out Bill Ripken and fought back from a 3-0 count to do the same to Mike Devereaux.
"I really pitched Billy Ripken tough and made some good pitches to him and ended up with a strikeout," Hibbard said. "I struggled with Devereaux but made a good pitch and struck him out. Striking out two guys to get out of an inning is unusual for me. I was looking for a ground ball and maybe a double play."
Mesa carried a four-hit shutout into the sixth but walked Sammy Sosa with two out and gave up a hit-and-run single to Ozzie Guillen to put runners at first and third. Fletcher followed with a fly-ball double into the gap in right-center to bring home both runners.
The team from the Windy City must have felt right at home. The stiff breeze that blew from left field to right played havoc with anything hit into the air.
Guillen circled under a pop-up in the first inning and had it pop out of his glove but managed to get a force at second anyway.
Orioles first baseman Glenn Davis collided with Hoiles on a foul pop in the fifth inning that sent both of them sprawling. The ball rolled out of Davis' glove as he hit the ground and umpire Don Denkinger ruled that he had not held it long enough to record the out on center fielder Lance Johnson.
It seemed destined to be the pivotal no-play of the game after Johnson lined a two-out single to center and Robin Ventura drew a walk, but Mesa struck out Frank Thomas on a full-count cut fastball to get out of the jam.
"Man, it was bad out there," Davis said. "It's nights like that when a dome comes in pretty handy."
Orioles outfielder Randy Milligan had enough to worry about in his first night game in left without having to contend with a swirling wind that made Memorial Stadium feel more like Candlestick Park. But he survived the evening without serious incident.
"That's tough playing weather, and it's really tough hitting weather," Robinson said, "but they took advantage of their opportunity, and we didn't take advantage of any of ours."
Mesa left after the sixth inning, eligible only for a loss after a solid performance in which he gave up six hits and struck out four. He threw 113 pitches, 65 of them strikes.
Left-hander Mike Flanagan took over in the seventh, making his second appearance in as many games, and pitched well again. He retired the White Sox in order in the seventh and eighth before turning the ball over to right-hander Gregg Olson, who pitched a perfect ninth in his 1991 debut.