It took the Orioles a few hours to get comfortable in their new surroundings, but they celebrated the preseason opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards yesterday with a 5-3 victory over the New York Mets that for once kept the team in the spirit of the festivities.
This obviously is not the same club that proved it didn't know how to party a year ago. Remember how the Orioles spent the final Opening Day at Memorial Stadium getting blackjacked by the Chicago White Sox, or the way they got hammered by the Detroit Tigers in the last game in the old ballpark?
No doubt, the fans who were seeing the Orioles for the first time since that game had to wonder when Mets left-hander Sid Fernandez took a no-hit bid into the sixth inning. But the Orioles scored five times in the sixth to overcome a three-run deficit and held on to christen the new stadium in style.
The field didn't always play to form. The infield was a little slow and the ball died against the billboard that graces the fence in the right-field corner, but isn't that what home-field advantage is all about? The winning runs scored on a grounder by Chris Hoiles that skipped through the legs of Mets third baseman Dave Magadan withthe bases loaded. The ballpark was pretty. The game didn't have to be.
It was a blustery day. The temperatures started in the 50s and dropped as the afternoon turned into evening. The breeze that blew in from center field kept the ball in the park, costing Leo Gomez and then Sam Horn the distinction of being the player to hit the first Camden Yards home run.
"Hopefully, when the wind dies down, it will be a home run park," said Horn, whose line drive into that breeze still short-hopped the center-field fence at the deepest point in the park.
Gomez hit a towering drive in the sixth that seemed certain to clear the wall in straightaway left, but Vince Coleman made a leaping catch against the wall to end the inning.
"The park played big today, but I think it's too early to tell," said reliever Mike Flanagan. "I thought the same thing in Toronto. SkyDome played very big early also, then in August and September it was a hitters' ballpark."
Flanagan was one of five members of the Orioles 1983 world championship team to appear in yesterday's game. He pitched two innings in relief of starter Bob Milacki and gave up a run on four hits. Storm Davis followed him to the mound ingly."The third baseman didn't know how to play that hop."
The Orioles were in an upbeat and threw two scoreless innings to 42-year-old catcher Rick Dempsey.
The fourth was former Orioles first baseman Eddie Murray, who made his first appearance in Baltimore as a player since he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers after the 1988 season. He got a mixed reaction from the crowd of 31,286, but there were more cheers than boos until he drove home the first run of the game with a sacrifice fly in the top of the first inning.
The Mets added another first-inning run on a single by Magadan and stretched their lead to three when former Oriole Dave Gallagher singled home Bobby Bonilla. The Orioles, meanwhile, were still looking for their first hit off El Sid.
Fernandez finally faltered in the bottom of the sixth, walking Gomez to lead off the inning and hitting Brady Anderson with a curveball that failed to break one out later. David Segui brought home the first Orioles run with a line drive off Magadan's glove. Cal Ripken followed with a clean single for the second run. And Glenn Davis tied the game with the team's third straight run-scoring hit.
Randy Milligan drew a two-out walk to load the bases before Hoiles pulled his sharp grounder under Magadan's glove. The play was ruled an error, but the ball skidded on Magadan, affording the Orioles their first big break at their new home.
"There was the home-field advantage," manager John Oates said Jok- mood and why not? The club came back from spring training on a high and opened their new stadium with a comeback victory. What more could a manager ask, except maybe for his team to adjust quickly enough to the new park to have some semblance of a home-field advantage in April.
"I don't think it's going to be as big a deal as I thought it was when I walked through it before spring training," Oates said. "I think the infield is going to be tougher to learn than the outfield wall. We don't have that much speed on the infield, so we'll grow the grass a little longer and there will be some other minor modifications."
Chito Martinez didn't have any trouble adjusting to the high wall in the right-field corner. He chased down a line drive by Murray in the eighth inning and played the carom perfectly. His throw cut down Murray at second and reinforced the notion that the short porch in right will play a role in the outcome of a lot of games.
By most accounts, however, it might be a month or two before the Orioles can consider any of the park's unique features to work to the advantage of the home club.