New O's gobble up huge basket of cheer

Clark, Johnson, Belle return warm welcome in 6-for-13 hit parade

Opening Day 1999

April 06, 1999|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

He ran the orange gantlet in from center field in pre-game ceremonies, stroked a pair of crowd-pleasing hits and soaked up the roar of 46,733. Of all the new Orioles, Will Clark may have appreciated the roar of the Camden Yards crowd most.

"Opening Day in a town that is a baseball town was something special," the Orioles' new first baseman said yesterday. "I'm glad I was able to go out and do it because the last two places I've been, the football team takes precedence. Not here, though."

That would be San Francisco and Texas, where the 49ers and Cowboys are kings. But this was Opening Day in Baltimore, and the Orioles celebrated with a 10-7 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays that assured happy introductions on the home front.

Albert Belle made the biggest noise -- on the field, anyway -- but the rest of this gritty bunch of newcomers did its part, too. Clark was in the middle of a pair of four-run flurries, catcher Charles Johnson contributed two singles, and closer Mike Timlin put out a ninth-inning brushfire.

All told, the new faces in the lineup went 6-for-13 with six RBIs in the slugfest. Jeff Conine threw in two walks for good measure.

"You just want to pace yourself," said Johnson, remarkably fresh after the three-hour, 45-minute marathon. "All of us want to get off to a good start, get big hits and make big outs. [But] it's a long grind."

Yesterday, the Orioles saved the grinding for their bullpen. The offense, somnolent for the last week of spring training, was just fine, thank you.

Clark's swing was strictly midseason in a 2-for-4 performance punctuated by an RBI double in the Orioles' four-run eighth inning. The left-hander went opposite field for a single in the third, a sacrifice fly in the fourth and a double in the eighth.

"I take what he [the pitcher] gives me," Clark said of his left-field predilection.

When Roberto Hernandez gave him a 90-mph fastball in the eighth, Clark deposited it in left-center, scoring Jeff Reboulet with the Orioles' ninth run. Turns out Clark could feel the tall shadow of Rafael Palmeiro, his predecessor at first base who signed with the Texas Rangers in the off-season.

"The fans got into it great today," Clark said. "To have a packed house cheer for every hit and every run that was fun."

Acceptance apparently will not come overnight, though.

"I heard my share of Palmeiro stuff out there," Clark said, declining to be specific.

After spending three-plus seasons in Miami with the Florida Marlins, Johnson appreciated the full house, too. He may have the most difficult transition of any of the new Orioles. This is his first taste of the American League, and the Orioles' spring training schedule was overloaded with National League teams. He needs to learn opposing hitters and pitchers quickly.

"I'll pretty much be learning on the job," said Johnson, who was robbed of a third hit by a diving Wade Boggs in the fourth inning. "It's tough, but it can be done.

"I've got to spend a lot of time studying hitters. I'm like a rookie all over in the National League. I've just got to pay attention to what's going on."

Right off the bat

The Orioles' output of 10 runs yesterday was among their highest for Opening Day:

Year Opponent Result

1982 Kansas City W, 13-5

1973 Milwaukee W, 10-0

1975 at Detroit W, 10-0

1999 Tampa Bay W, 10-7

1970 at Cleveland W, 8-2

Pub Date: 4/06/99

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