New O's age dawns, with ray from past OPENING DAY '94

April 05, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

Opening Day, 1994. Remember it as the day 47,549 spectators came to Camden Yards and tugged Rafael Palmeiro's heart away from Texas.

The day Mike Mussina, his confidence untainted by a shaky spring, turned back the clock and looked like a Cy Young contender.

The day the Orioles in a way proved right those who figured they couldn't possibly meet great expectations created by new ownership's off-season spending spree. For openers at least, they didn't meet expectations. They surpassed them.

Orioles old and new alike blended talents to defeat the Kansas City Royals, 6-3, in the opening of the third season at Camden Yards.

Mussina triggered the Hunt for Late October -- the theme emblazoned on T-shirts being sold in front of the ballpark -- in glorious fashion.

He surrendered two hits and one run in eight innings and needed only 91 pitches to get those 24 outs. After allowing a one-out, fourth-inning home run to Mike Macfarlane, Mussina did not let another runner reach base.

Meanwhile, as Mussina retired the final 14 Royals to face him, the Orioles' lineup justified the preseason hype.

Palmeiro, who really does know how to say hello, was forced to tip his cap not once, but twice.

The crowd bombarded him with spirit during pre-game introductions, then let him have it again after he homered to right off of reliever Billy Brewer, the third of five Kansas City pitchers, to lead off the seventh.

"They wanted to welcome me and make me feel special," TC Palmeiro said. "The home run was good, but the ovation felt even better. That was my first curtain call. I never really had one in Texas."

Palmeiro called the day "the beginning of a good, long relationship."

Palmeiro's homer gave the Orioles a 6-1 lead that lasted until the ninth. Consecutive run-scoring singles off of Alan Mills by Gary Gaetti and Bob Hamelin enabled the runners Mills inherited from Jim Poole to score.

At that point, Orioles manager Johnny Oates summoned Lee Smith from the bullpen. One long, slow trot and two pitches later, Smith earned the 402nd save of his career in his Orioles debut.

Like Mussina, Smith had a rough spring, at least in the results department.

"It seems like it takes me longer to get going every spring," Smith said. "But who cares? All I heard about was how Mussina was getting knocked around in spring training. That doesn't matter. All that matters started today."

The day could not have started any better for Mike Devereaux, who homered to left in the first inning off losing pitcher Kevin Appier.

After Macfarlane's home run tied it in the fourth, the Orioles regained the lead in the bottom of the inning. Mark McLemore's single scored Chris Hoiles from second. Dave Henderson's throw to the plate glanced off of Macfarlane's glove, preventing what would have been a photo finish at the plate.

An inning later, Harold Baines' single to right scored Devereaux from second, where he advanced on a walk and a stolen base. (Devereaux's day could have been even bigger had Royals center fielder Brian McRae not robbed him of extra bases with a diving catch in the third inning.)

Two more runs came across in the sixth, when the Orioles turned two Kansas City errors, a Jeffrey Hammonds double and a Brady Anderson single, both hits coming with two outs, into a 5-1 lead.

Debuting third baseman Chris Sabo, who reached base on a walk and one of the Royals' three errors, was the only one in the lineup who did not contribute to the Orioles' 11-hit first effort.

Six different Orioles drove in runs.

"That's the way it has to be," McLemore said. "We can't put everything on the shoulders of one or two guys."

Thanks to the healthy shoulder of one guy, Mussina, not all of the offense was needed.

Flashing a midseason fastball throughout, Mussina grew stronger as the game progressed. He threw three consecutive seven-pitch innings from the fifth through the seventh.

"From what I saw today, Mike is healthy so we can turn the page and go on," Oates said. "In spring training, I saw the way he was throwing and I knew all we would have to do is give him time and everything would be OK."

Oates decided against sending Mussina to the mound for the ninth inning.

"We originally wanted him to go 100 [pitches], but he came to Bos [pitching coach Dick Bosman] after the fourth and said he wanted to go 85," Oates said. "When we took him out, he was at 91, so we were pretty close to what we wanted."

Mussina exhibited no jitters in his first Opening Day start.

"I was here in '92 for the opening of the stadium," Mussina said. "This was Opening Day, but there were no jets flying overhead. No president was here. There weren't bands playing all over the place."

Mussina takes comfort in the knowledge that he won't always have to be as sharp as he was yesterday to pitch for the winning side.

"What pitcher wouldn't want to pitch for this team?" he said. "We can run. We can hit home runs. We can play defense. That's what any pitcher would want."

The Orioles did all of those things on Opening Day and Mussina did the rest.

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