McDonald caps fill-in-blank series, 2-0 Oriole healthy, more in 2-hitter

April 10, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

Ben McDonald scored his first victory the moment he took the mound for his 1992 regular-season debut last night. He got through spring training without injury for the first time in his professional career and was healthy enough to open the season in the Orioles rotation.

The rest is another piece of new stadium history.

McDonald held the Cleveland Indians to two hits and pitched the third consecutive shutout at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, a 2-0 victory before 42,646 that gave the Orioles the decisive game in the first regular-season series at the new ballpark.

Every game of the series featured at least one outstanding pitching performance, beginning with Rick Sutcliffe's five-hitter on Opening Day and including the combined shutout thrown by Cleveland's Dave Otto and Rod Nichols Wednesday night. But McDonald saved the best for last, allowing just three base runners and striking out nine on the way to his first victory since Sept. 3.

The two complete-game shutouts match the Orioles' total for all of last year. The last time the club had two in the same series was in August 1985, when Mike Boddicker and Storm Davis blanked the Seattle Mariners in back-to-back games.

McDonald was happy just to be able to start the season on time, much less finish his first game. He had to open the 1990 season on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his side and did not rejoin the club until July. Last year, he again started out on the DL after elbow soreness forced him out of the spring rotation.

He looked strong last night, throwing 112 pitches and retiring the last 13 batters he faced. The only time the complete game was in danger was when McDonald went 3-and-1 to leadoff hitter Alex Cole in the ninth. Manager John Oates said afterward that he would have gone to stopper Gregg Olson at the first sign of trouble, but McDonald fought back to get Cole on a ground ball to second. He struck out the final two batters as the noise in the stands built to a crescendo.

"I felt real good at the end," McDonald said. "The crowd really got me excited in the ninth. I knew I didn't want to walk the guy [Cole], but I wasn't thinking about that [coming out of the game]. You never want to walk the leadoff guy. I had done a good job of keeping the leadoff hitter off base all night. I was just thinking about throwing strikes."

Olson was ready in the bullpen, but McDonald had the pitch count on his side. He had a couple of quick innings earlier in the game and entered the ninth only slightly above his pitch count (92) for his final exhibition start.

"I knew I hadn't thrown a whole lot of pitches," he said. "I knew I had a couple of good innings where I only threw eight or nine. I was around 100, and we had been building up to that. I only threw 15 or 20 more than the last time. If I had been up to 130 pitches, I'm sure he wouldn't have let me go out and finish."

The game was too close for real comfort. Joe Orsulak brought home Brady Anderson with a one-out single in the third inning, and Mike Devereaux hit the first Orioles home run at Camden Yards in the fourth to help make right-hander Jack Armstrong the loser in his Indians debut.

McDonald already was in a groove by then, and he got better as the night wore on.

"That curveball is his feel pitch," Oates said. "Some days he has it, and some days he doesn't. He had it, and he threw it all night. He threw it in the strike zone when he wanted to, and he had it breaking out of the strike zone when he wanted. When he can do that, he's going to be very tough.

"I was tickled to death to see him finish the ninth. It was tempting to go to Olson, but I wanted Ben to close it out himself."

The club has made short work of each of the first three games, averaging 2 hours, 17 minutes apiece after a 1991 season in which the Orioles had the third-highest average time of game in the league (2:58). McDonald worked quickly, picking up on the pace set by Sutcliffe in his 2:02 Orioles debut.

"When you've got that kind of stuff, go get them," pitching coach Dick Bosman said. "No sense in dallying around."

The Orioles offense still hasn't come out of its shell, but there was no need last night. The club scored just two runs in the first two games of the series -- both for Sutcliffe on Opening Day -- and provided McDonald with just enough offensive help to get the victory.

Anderson broke a season-opening, 0-for-9 streak with a line drive to center and stretched it to a double when Cole did not pick up the ball cleanly. Orsulak followed with a solid single to left, and Anderson raced home to score on a close play at the plate.

It was just the kind of aggressive base running that Oates was hoping to see when he handed Anderson the full-time leadoff role during spring training. Anderson fought off an 0-2 count later the game to draw a leadoff walk, but was thrown out trying to steal when the Indians guessed right and pitched out.

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