Eddie, Dennis give new park an old feel

May 07, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

The ball hit the right-field foul pole, the one the Orioles shipped over from Memorial Stadium. How proper. How poignant. How utterly perfect that a towering fly ball off an old landmark brought Eddie Murray all the way home.

It was a night possible only in a game that thrives on tradition and nostalgia, and a city that does the same. Two of the Orioles' favorite sons returned to Baltimore, and the response was so heartfelt, so touching, it warmed the cool spring air.

Eddie and Dennis, Dennis and Eddie. Seemed like just yesterday, didn't it? "That was really special," Cleveland general manager John Hart said afterward. "Really special."

Murray hit a two-run homer. Martinez pitched a three-hitter over 10 innings. Past over present, Indians over Orioles, 4-2.

Nights like this come along once in a decade, once in a career. Martinez said he nearly wept over the standing ovation the sellout crowd gave him when he took the mound. Murray, re-enacting his Baltimore days to the fullest, declined comment.

"I never heard that kind of cheering before, even when I was with the Orioles," Martinez said. "It was really emotional. I almost started to get tears. It reminded me of when I first came to the big leagues. I think that's what inspired me to pitch the game I did.

"I never expected anything like that," added Martinez, who pitched for the Orioles from 1976 to '86. "I've been gone a long time. But the people really appreciated what we did in Baltimore. I had to tip my cap, because otherwise they never would have sat down."

Yet, the fans gradually shifted allegiances as the game progressed, rooting for the current Orioles, not the old ones. Surely, not everyone was delighted when Murray hit his two-out, two-run homer in the fourth inning, seeing as how it gave Cleveland a 2-1 lead.

The Orioles tied the score in the next inning, and by the end of the night, the crowd had almost completely turned. Murray, the object of a standing ovation before his first at-bat, heard scattered boos before his third, and louder ones before his fourth -- a pattern reminiscent of his stormy Orioles career.

The fans wanted a victory, and Eddie stood in the way. He hit that home run, didn't he? For the longest time, it looked like it was going foul. Finally, with the entire ballpark hushed, first base umpire Dale Scott signaled home run. Most of the fans stood and applauded, but with less enthusiasm than before.

No matter. This was Eddie's night, and Dennis' too. Martinez was so pumped, he became the first Indians pitcher in more than a year to pitch into the 10th inning. His complete-game three-hitter produced his first Indians victory, and his first in the American League since Sept. 26, 1985.

The night began and ended with Dennis. Rex Barney gave him the standard introduction: "For the Cleveland Indians, doing the pitching, No. 32, Dennis Martinez," It had been more than eight years. Martinez had left with his career shattered. But this was a different man, a different pitcher, and all was forgotten.

The crowd rose as one, and Martinez held his cap high in appreciation, leaving the next step for Murray. The fans started calling his name the moment he appeared in the on-deck circle with two outs in the first inning. When Albert Belle struck out, it set up the perfect introduction.

Eddie led off the second. Between innings, the Orioles displayed a video tribute to Murray set to "The Man," a song by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney. By the end, you couldn't hear the music. Eddie was limbering up in the on-deck circle. The crowd was standing and chanting his name.

Orioles starter Mike Mussina waited in back of the mound, the noise swirling around him. The pause allowed Murray to savor his moment. Last season, Mussina achieved notoriety by triggering a bench-clearing brawl and an All-Star controversy. This was the classiest gesture of his brief career.

"He's earned it," said Mussina, who matched Martinez for nine innings, only to earn a no-decision. "I never even went to the mound. I just stood and waited. I knew what was going to happen. I wasn't going to rush anything. I was going to wait until he got into the batter's box."

When Murray got there, he tapped his helmet twice with his left hand and then raised the hand in acknowledgment of the crowd. It wasn't a classic tip of the cap, but it was vintage Eddie, understated and unique. And with that, the attention finally shifted to Murray's principal concern -- the game.

He popped up in his first at-bat, but the next time Mussina made the mistake of throwing him three straight changeups after falling behind 1-0. Murray swung through the first two, then reached down and connected on the third. The ball hit halfway up the foul pole. It was his 448th career home run.

Murray has homered in 31 major-league parks, one shy of Frank Robinson's record. Only SkyDome and the new Comiskey Park remain on his hit list, and by the end of this season, his total might match his uniform number -- 33.

Murray's new teammates greeted him at the top of the dugout steps, visibly excited. Martinez allowed Rafael Palmeiro's two-out bases-empty homer in the third and Mike Devereaux's two-out RBI single in the fifth, then retired 16 of his final 17 hitters.

When it ended, he raised both arms above his head, kicked his right leg in jubilation and embraced catcher Tony Pena. Murray was one of the last Indians to greet him as he reached the dugout. They marked their homecoming with a high five. Only in baseball. Only in Baltimore.

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