Amid hoopla, Sutcliffe knows this one counts

OPEN FOR BUSINESS

April 06, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

The pep rally was great. The party was fun. The parade was nice. Now, the Orioles are ready to cut through the ticker tape and get down to business.

Right-hander Rick Sutcliffe is scheduled to take the mound against the Cleveland Indians today and -- at approximately 3:20 p.m. -- deliver the first pitch thrown in regular-season play at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Stadium firsts will come in bunches after that, but Sutcliffe will get the honor of ushering in a new era of baseball in Baltimore.

"There will be other Opening Days and playoffs, but any time there is a first like this, it's pretty special," said Sutcliffe, who will face Indians right-hander Charles Nagy in the opener of a three-game series. "If President Bush can take time out of his schedule at this time of year, obviously there is a lot to it."

Bush wouldn't miss it. This is, after all, an election year. He'll throw out the ceremonial first ball, wave to the sellout crowd of 48,041 and catch a helicopter out of town after the second inning. A year ago, the Orioles starter could have joined him, but Sutcliffe hopes to set a precedent by staying around for most of the afternoon.

The Orioles are banking heavily on Sutcliffe and the rest of the revamped starting rotation to carry them back into contention in the American League East. If spring training was any accurate indicator, the pitching renaissance has begun.

"I realize it was only spring training," manager John Oates said, "but we accomplished everything we wanted to accomplish in spring training. We played well. We improved in the areas we needed to improve in. Our pitching was good. We just want to keep it going. If we do those things all season like we did in spring, there's reason for optimism."

Opening Day represents a new beginning for the club and, in particular, left fielder Brady Anderson, who received the good managing seal of approval before yesterday's public workout. Oates announced that Anderson had won the full-time leadoff role, and would step aside only against selected left-handed pitchers.

"Brady is going to get a chance," Oates said. "I like the idea of having him play every day in that big left field. I want him to get on base, steal some bases, create some havoc and see what happens."

Anderson spent the spring in competition for the leadoff role with fellow outfielders Luis Mercedes and Darrell Sherman, but he was the only one left on the major-league roster by the time the decision was announced. The only question was whether he would assume the leadoff role full time or share it with Mike Devereaux or Randy Milligan.

Devereaux will get his wish. He'll open the season as the club's No. 5 hitter, even though he performed adequately in the leadoff role last year. He might show up at the top of the lineup on occasion, but the job will belong to Anderson as long as he can hold onto it.

"That's what I've been working for all spring," Anderson said. "They told me I had a chance to win the job if I played well. I'm satisfied I got the job done."

Anderson batted .267 this spring, his average watered down by a 1-for-8 performance after the club came north. He hit .288 in Florida and was effective on the bases, stealing nine in 10 attempts to rank among the American League spring leaders.

Oates would not answer other lineup questions, choosing instead to keep the Opening Day lineup to himself until today. There are a couple of other spots in question, and no clear-cut answers.

Does he start Sam Horn in the designated-hitter spot or send right-handed-hitting Milligan against the right-handed Nagy? Horn has four hits in seven career at-bats against Nagy, but Milligan hits right-handers well, and has two hits (including a home run) and three RBI in five career at-bats against the Cleveland pitcher.

Who will be in right field? Chito Martinez came on strong at the end of spring, but veteran Joe Orsulak may be best suited for the No. 2 spot in the order. If Martinez plays, then Oates almost has to use Milligan as the DH and hit him in the second spot, sacrificing power at the heart of the lineup. That's why Orsulak seems more likely to be in the starting lineup today.

Ground rules

The ground rules at Oriole Park at Camden Yards:

* Foul poles with screens attached are outside of playing field.

* Thrown or fairly batted ball that goes behind or under the canvas, also canvas holder, and remains: two bases. Ball rebounding in playing field: in play.

* Ball striking surfaces, pillars or facings surrounding the dugout: in dugout.

* Ball striking railing around photographers' booths: in play.

* No break in backstop screen: ball in play.

* Ball left of green stripe on right-field wall and above lower fence: home run. Ball on or to right of green stripe: in play.

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