O's bats fine

Ripken hurting

Third baseman's back, exit in 3rd, is only pain in run-happy victory

Belle's 3-run HR is key

Two 4-run outbursts cover uneven pitching

Ripken is `day-to-day'

Opening Day Orioles 10, Devil Rays 7

April 06, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The Orioles found a little bit of everything -- good, bad and worrisome -- in yesterday's 10-7 Opening Day win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

They rediscovered right fielder Albert Belle's bat and were rewarded with four RBIs, including a game-turning three-run homer in his second at-bat as an Oriole. They found the offense that had eluded them for much of an indifferent spring training.

They happened upon more positive returns from new first baseman Will Clark. They even received a piece of clutch pitching from scrutinized closer Mike Timlin.

However, they may have lost third baseman Cal Ripken.

Back spasms forced the Iron Man to leave the game for a pinch hitter in the third inning, only one inning after the pain had forced him to sacrifice in his first at-bat of the season and two innings after he froze on a bunt. Despite team officials insisting that Ripken is not headed for the disabled list, other indicators suggested a larger problem that caused him to seek treatment at a hospital.

Still, manager Ray Miller was upbeat. "It was a good day," he said. "We saw some offense, made some plays and got a bomb from Albert."

Offensively stagnant for much of spring training, the Orioles steamrolled five pitchers for 13 hits and outbursts of four, two and four runs. It was enough to reward starting pitcher Mike Mussina for a shaky five-inning outing.

The Orioles placed five consecutive runners, including two home runs, in the third inning; received a double from shortstop Mike Bordick that served as the catalyst for a two-run fourth; and enjoyed a stretch of six hits in a span of seven batters during an important four-run eighth.

Belle, signed for $65 million over five years last November, provided immediate dividends as he jolted his new club from an early-inning stupor.

With the Orioles trailing Devil Rays starter Wilson Alvarez 2-1, Belle skied a pitch toward the porch behind the right-field scoreboard. What may have seemed like a popup immediately impressed Belle, who went into a jog as the ball fell well back into the standing-room crowd.

The Orioles would never lose the lead but were twice threatened by a halting start by Mussina and an uneven bullpen performance. The Orioles managed leads of 6-3 and 10-5, but still needed to rush closer Mike Timlin into the ninth inning to escape a two-on, one-out jam. Timlin's save was his 15th consecutive over the past two seasons and compensated for earlier problems by Arthur Rhodes and Heathcliff Slocumb.

Timlin, the Orioles' sixth pitcher, secured the final out by striking out Devil Rays center fielder Randy Winn on the game's 353rd pitch with runners at second and third. Winn was the 3-hour, 45-minute marathon's 87th batter.

"It's still hard to make an evaluation of how you're going to play based on one game," said center fielder Brady Anderson, who accounted for the first of four third-inning runs with a bases-empty homer to right. "It's good to win a game. It's just as important as winning a game in September when the pennant race is tight. But it's no more important than the game we have tomorrow."

The Orioles survived because Mike Fetters quelled a sixth-inning threat by retiring Fred McGriff and John Flaherty with the bases loaded. Rhodes followed with two scoreless innings before stumbling at the end of a 58-pitch outing.

The top half of the Orioles lineup feasted. Anderson, Mike Bordick, Clark and Belle combined for nine hits, nine RBIs and 17 total bases.

Belle provided the game's signature. Coming off a silent spring in which he had homered only once in 58 at-bats, he energized a crowd slow to warm to the event.

"Everyone talked about him not hitting home runs in spring training. But the wind was howling down there like I'd never seen before," said Miller. "Today, it didn't matter what the wind was doing."

"Spring training is spring training," reminded Clark, a .388 hitter this spring. "It counts for nothing. They don't put those stats on your baseball card."

A standing ovation pulled Belle from the dugout for a curtain call. He was again warmly received when he jogged to his position and briefly waved his glove in acknowledgment.

"He said he caught it pretty good but that he'd hit them better that way," said Clark.

Later, Belle was still moved enough by the moment to make a brief statement. Asked if he had a second, the slugger replied, "No, man. Save the hassle."

The Orioles, who have long toed the border of paranoia concerning injuries, were equally forthcoming about Ripken's condition.

Moments after Ripken was lifted for pinch hitter Willis Otanez, the Orioles announced he had left the game because of "back stiffness." Meanwhile, Ripken's wife, Kelly, left her seat behind home plate to inquire about her husband's condition. The couple left the ballpark in the seventh inning with Kelly driving.

Club officials refused to comment about Ripken's hospital visit.

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