A case of delayed gratification After 1 day wait, O's, fans blown away by good news in opener

O's BIG DAY: WIN, 4-2, SIGN RIPKEN, TOO

April 03, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The Orioles didn't make a lot of friends when they started the new baseball season 24 hours behind schedule, but Opening Day II turned out to be well worth the wait.

The weather was nearly perfect, and the new-look Orioles defeated the Kansas City Royals, 4-2, yesterday before a sellout crowd of 46,588 at Camden Yards, successfully beginning their quest for the 1997 American League pennant.

And there was more. Much more.

Third baseman Cal Ripken hit a home run and two doubles, then agreed to terms on a two-year contract extension worth a guaranteed $15.1 million, with a club option on the 2000 season.

Former New York Yankees pitcher Jimmy Key filled in for scheduled Opening Day starter Mike Mussina and allowed just two unearned runs on four hits over six innings to win his first game as an Oriole.

Outfielder Eric Davis slashed a run-scoring double in the sixth inning that broke a 2-2 tie and carried his new team to victory.

The game-time temperature was 65 degrees, and the blustery wind that convinced the Orioles to postpone the game on Tuesday had died to a pleasant breeze.

What more could the baseball-hungry fans of Baltimore ask for, except maybe a couple of thousand additional parking spaces within bicycling distance of the stadium?

Key picked up right where he left off here last year, but this time he was in a better-looking uniform. As a Yankee, he defeated the Orioles in the pivotal third game of the American League Championship Series last October, but he turned in a similar performance in his Orioles debut.

"I thought it was pretty special," manager Davey Johnson said.

The veteran left-hander has pitched for the Orioles' two most hated rivals -- New York and the Toronto Blue Jays -- and now he is looking for his third World Series ring at Oriole Park. The sellout crowd showed its appreciation as he held the Royals hitless through three innings and worked out of a couple of middle-inning jams before turning the game over to the bullpen.

"It reminded me of my first start in New York," Key said. "It's a special day, and you want to get off to a good start with the fans and the team. It worked out well for me. I love big crowds and every night here is a full house, so this is going to be an enjoyable place to be."

It wasn't a perfect game -- the Orioles wasted a lot of scoring opportunities, and the game lasted more than 3 1/2 hours -- but it was a perfect way to start the new season. The Orioles made a strong first impression, then announced that they had extended the contract of their most popular player.

"It's a great day for the Orioles," said assistant general manager Kevin Malone. "It's great to start with a win. It wasn't pretty, but it was effective -- and then to have the signing of Cal Ripken to a long-term contract."

The playing conditions were terrific, but the Royals weren't exactly thrilled with the 24-hour postponement.

General manager Herk Robinson complained to the American League office Tuesday and chief executive David Glass lodged a complaint with interim Commissioner Bud Selig, though manager Bob Boone said he was satisfied that the decision was not made for strategic purposes.

The Orioles did benefit. The delay bought an extra day of rest for fill-in starter Key, who was moved into the Opening Day start when Mussina came up with a sore elbow. And the Royals had good reason to be peeved, because the postponement forced Boone to alter his pitching rotation for his club's coming series against the Minnesota Twins.

There was some grumbling outside the stadium, too, as fans made the marathon trek from downtown parking garages and remote lots. The site of the new football stadium annexed 2,600 parking spaces, prompting the Orioles to reserve all stadium lots for fans with prepaid parking plans. The crunch even affected the availability of parking spaces for disabled fans.

"My brother brought me and came up to pull into the handicapped area," said disabled fan Ann Dennis, who arrived three hours before game time. "They said it was full, and he let me out. We saw some empty spots. I guess I'll see him in about an hour."

During the game, the fans got a little unruly in the upper deck. They peppered left field with dozens of giveaway baseballs after Ripken's home run in the fourth inning, prompting a warning over the public address system that the Orioles could be forced to forfeit the game if the fans continued to endanger the safety of the players.

There were no further problems in the stands.

Pub Date: 4/03/97

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