On the surface, it appeared to be the most routine of plays.
With two outs in the top of the first inning, Glenallen Hill was running from first base on the pitch Bob Milacki delivered to Albert Belle. The ensuing ground ball to third looked like a routine inning-ending play.
Instead, it turned out to be the key play, not only of the inning, but the game.
The largest second-game home crowd in Orioles' history (42,870) was still admiring the new ballpark when plate umpire Greg Kosc ruled that catcher Chris Hoiles had interfered on the swing. Belle was awarded first base and Paul Sorrento promptly hit the first home run at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, giving the Cleveland Indians a 3-0 lead and dulling the enthusiasm of the first night audience.
"It's never happened to me before," Hoiles said after the Indians completed a very routine 4-0 shutout win over the Orioles. "It was a changeup that I reached for -- the runner was going -- and he [Belle] hit my glove.
"I don't think you'll see too many more of those."
Manager John Oates, while absolving Hoiles of any blame, disagreed. "You'll see that happen a few more times," said Oates. "But probably with two outs and nobody on base -- and no runs scoring."
With a changeup en route, and a runner going on the pitch, it is a natural reaction for a catcher to get the ball as soon as possible. And one Oates, a former catcher, hopes will not change with Hoiles.
"You can't sit back and wait on the pitch when the runner's going," he said. "If you do, you'll never throw anybody out. You have to get your body in motion.
"Actually, that's something we've worked on with Chris," said Oates. "He's had a tendency in the past to stay back too much."
On a night when lefthander Dave Otto and righthander Rod Nichols combined to pitch a three-hitter, the rare call on Hoiles turned out to be the game's most significant play.
But, according to leftfielder Brady Anderson, it may not have been the only interference act of the inning -- merely the only official one. After leaping against the fence in left-centerfield, Anderson came away slamming his glove to the ground, seemingly in disgust after failing to catch the ball.
That honor went to a spectator in the first row, who caught the ball in his own territory, but apparently not before hitting Anderson's glove.
"Hopefully, they'll give me a chance to catch them first," Anderson quipped in the clubhouse after the game.
"It's something we'll have to get used to here," Anderson said about one of the new park's quirks. "We didn't have to worry about that at Memorial Stadium because it was just a temporary fence [in front of the bullpen areas]. But it's like that in some other parks, too."
If nothing else, last night's game provided the first indication that, on a windless night, the ball will carry in the Orioles' new surroundings. At first, neither the home run hit by Sorrento, nor the solo shot struck four innings later by Mark Lewis seemed capable of reaching the seats.
"I thought they both carried very well," said Hoiles. "When there's no wind, I think that will happen a lot."
Although admitting both balls were well hit, Milacki agreed. "I was sort of walking off the field at first," he said of Sorrento's damaging blow. "I thought it was going to be caught.
"But when I saw Brady getting to the wall, I realized it was going out. I was trying to go down and away with a fastball and got it up in the [strike] zone.
"The second one was a 3-and-2 slider that I was just trying to get over the plate. He hit it pretty good, but he kind of one-handed it."
Except for the two home runs he allowed, Milacki was excellent, which is little consolation. He allowed five hits and didn't walk anybody, striking out four in the 6 1/3 innings he worked before Storm Davis and Gregg Olson finished up.
"He was throwing good, but he made a couple of bad pitches that hurt him," said pitching coach Dick Bosman, who didn't think Sorrento's homer was a product of favorable conditions. "He got a pitch to hit and he hit it good."
If indeed the ball was carrying to leftfield last night, the Orioles were unable to test the prevailing currents. Hoiles hit a drive to the deepest part of the park, but it was caught by Kenny Lofton in front of the 410-foot sign in straightaway centerfield.
Tim Hulett lofted a long fly to left-centerfield, but it too was trapped by the part of the park with the deepest dimensions. The Tall Wall in rightfield served no purpose to hitters from either club, other than providing up-to-the-minute scores.
So far, and it is still too early to judge, the Orioles' hitters have not been able to offer any evidence that their new nest will be a comfortable place to swing.
In three games, counting last Friday's exhibition against the Mets, they have been able to score in only two of the 25 innings they've played.
"It's early," said hitting coach Greg Biagini, "and hitting is contagious."
The same thing, of course, is true about non-hitting.