The new ballpark got a little smaller last night. Oriole Park at Camden Yards may have played large on Opening Day, but it was not big enough to save Bob Milacki from himself in the first night game played there.
Milacki gave up two home runs and the Orioles felt the sting of defeat for the first time in their new home, losing, 4-0, to the Cleveland Indians before 42,870.
The warehouse was safe for another night, but the left-field fence proved to be closer than it looked in Friday's exhibition, when a towering drive off the bat of Leo Gomez failed to reach the not-so-cheap seats in the left-field corner. Indians first baseman Paul Sorrento went the extra yard and so did Mark Lewis, as the Indians evened the three-game series at a game apiece.
Cleveland left-hander Dave Otto combined with reliever Rod Nichols to limit the Orioles to three hits in the second consecutive shutout pitched at the new ballpark. Milacki gave up five hits and relievers Storm Davis and Gregg Olson kept Cleveland hitless the final two-plus innings. But the two swings that mattered made it a long evening.
It didn't take long to dispense with the brand-new stadium and brand-new team euphoria that gripped the Orioles and their fans after Rick Sutcliffe opened the stadium and the regular season with his five-hit shutout on Monday.
The club came back down to earth yesterday, when first baseman Glenn Davis was scratched from the starting lineup with a muscle strain below his left shoulder blade. The starting rotation returned to reality a few hours later, when Sorrento greeted Milacki with a three-run homer in the first inning.
"You never like to give up a lot of runs early in the game," Milacki said. "That's going to happen. I just hope it doesn't happen anymore. The big thing is, try to go as far as you as can. I got to the fifth inning before giving up another run [Lewis' homer]. That's what you want to do, keep the club in the ballgame as long as you can."
Still, Milacki's first inning wasn't the best way to begin a new year, especially after a 1991 season in which the Orioles fell behind by three runs or more in the first three innings in one of every four games. But Milacki was not entirely to blame. He gave up a one-out single to Glenallen Hill, but it took a rare catcher's interference call on Chris Hoiles to put Sorrento into position to claim the distinction of being the first player to homer at the new ballpark.
Albert Belle was awarded first base when his bat grazed Hoiles' glove with two outs. Sorrento followed with a drive into the first row of the left-field bleachers, the ball landing just beyond the reach of left fielder Brady Anderson, whose leaping attempt almost took him into the stands.
Anderson slammed his glove to the ground in disgust when he came down without the ball, perhaps aware that he had come very close to making a catch that would have kept him in the video-board highlights all year. He would try again in the fifth inning, when Lewis drove a bases-empty shot into the left-field seats for his first major-league home run, but Anderson didn't come quite as close the second time around.
It had to be a disappointing evening for Milacki, but he did not pitch poorly. The four runs he gave up all came on the home runs by Sorrento and Lewis. He surrendered just three other hits over the first six innings -- the homer by Lewis the only hit between the three-run first and the seventh -- and was charged with only one earned run.
"I told him, 'Bobby, you dug a hole, but you kept us in the game,' " manager John Oates said. "You're not going to pitch a shutout inning every time. He was one pitch away from getting out of that inning and he made a lot of good pitches after that. He held them long enough for us to get back into the thing. We just couldn't get anything going."
Milacki was coming off a successful spring. He was 3-1 with a 3.55 ERA in seven exhibition appearances, but his performance declined as the quality of the competition increased. In his first four appearances, he gave up just one run on nine hits over 15 innings. In his last three starts, he gave up 12 earned runs -- and three homers -- in 18 innings (6.00 ERA).
He left the game after the Indians put runners at first and second with one out in the seventh. Storm Davis came on to make his first regular-season appearance in an Orioles uniform since he was traded to the San Diego Padres for Mark Williamson and Terry Kennedy in 1986. Davis made it count, getting the first batter he faced (Lewis) to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Otto entered the game winless in two career appearances against the Orioles last year, but his 1.80 ERA in those two games should have been an indication that he was someone to be reckoned with. He gave up just one hit through the first four innings and was in trouble only once.
The Orioles staged a significant threat in the fifth, when Hoiles delivered a leadoff single and Leo Gomez beat out a 20-foot nubber for an infield hit. But David Segui followed with a double-play grounder to short and Bill Ripken popped out to left to end the inning.