Unlikely O's open on cue, win

Kids, vets beat doubts, P. Martinez, 2-1, in 11

April 03, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Their motto this year will be simple: defeat convention by doing the unconventional.

The Orioles began what they intend to be a logic-defying ride in yesterday's season opener by defeating the Boston Red Sox, 2-1, in 11 innings. They got there by negating the game's best pitcher, by fulfilling a spring training promise to claw for every base and by watching a player associated with their recent underachieving past drive home another who stands for the promise of their future.

A year ago the Orioles played like a team with nothing to prove. Yesterday, they impressed a sold-out Camden Yards crowd as a team with nothing to lose.

No one would have been surprised if one of yesterday's starting pitchers had retired his first 10 hitters faced before allowing one run in 8 2/3 innings. Few would have guessed it would be Orioles starter Pat Hentgen over Red Sox dominator Pedro Martinez.

Right fielder Brady Anderson supplied a feel-good ending by scoring the afternoon's catalyst, second baseman Jerry Hairston, with a ground single through the right side of a constricted infield. The bullpen was rewarded for 2 1/3 shutout innings and 40-year-old Cal Ripken was cheered for three strong defensive plays that included one in the horizontal and another in the Red Sox dugout.

For one day, at least, it was OK to imagine.

Hairston asked: "A year ago, who would have told you Oakland and the White Sox" would make the playoffs?

Hairston set up the game-ender with his third hit, a leadoff double to left field off Red Sox closer Derek Lowe. Anderson helped himself by squaring to bunt on the first offering. Anderson then remembered manager Mike Hargrove's command to advance the runner as he left the dugout, and figured he could do so just as easily by rolling over a pitch. He then grounded Lowe's next pitch through second base, allowing Hairston to score standing.

"I appreciate Grover having the confidence in me to get the job done in the way I'm most comfortable," said Anderson, whose hit salvaged what had been an 0-for-4 day.

For 8 2/3 innings, Hentgen went pitch-to-pitch with a three-time Cy Young Award winner who allowed only one earned run during all of spring training. Hentgen conversely absorbed a 6.00 ERA and six home runs, walked six and struck out only five during a winless spring. Yesterday, however, he controlled a funky-looking Red Sox lineup with exquisite command of his off-speed assortment.

"There's no back-down in Pat Hentgen," Hargrove said. "Realistically, I think that 99.9 percent of the people in America saw the matchup with Pedro today and wrote us off. To be able to do what Pat did and ignore that sort of sentiment ... takes a very mentally tough individual."

"Sometimes in spring training you get out of your game plan and pitching to get hitters out," said Hentgen.

"When you watch him throw a game, [you] forget how he throws. Watch how he competes," said Anderson.

On one of the rare occasions Hentgen trailed a hitter, Trot Nixon launched a too-high cutter onto the right-field flag court for a 1-0 fourth-inning lead.

With presumed starters Jose Offerman and Dante Bichette idling on the bench, Nixon was the only runner to reach second base against Hentgen through eight innings. Martinez was only slightly less brilliant, allowing four hits while striking out six in seven innings. At one point Martinez fed the Orioles consecutive changeups before dialing up his electric fastball the next time through the lineup.

"The art of pitching isn't necessarily throwing the ball by people or getting people to miss the ball," Hargrove said. "It's commanding your pitches, putting it in the spot you want at the speed you want and keeping it off the fat part of the bat. Pat did that very well today."

"He did a great job and I just have to tip my cap to him," said Martinez. "I know what Pat is capable of and he can pitch with you every single moment of the game. He out-threw me today."

"Sometimes you get in a good groove and you're able to make quality pitches to get people out early in the count. I did that today," Hentgen said.

The Orioles tied Martinez in the sixth inning when Hairston doubled - he is 4-for-5 lifetime against Martinez - and stole third without a throw as Anderson struck out. The extra base became huge when Mike Bordick floated a pop single just behind second base over a drawn-in infield to score the run.

Hargrove referred to the flare as one of the breaks his team received. The others occurred when an inward breeze killed Carl Everett's second-inning fly ball to right and Manny Ramirez's seventh-inning laser hit an outfield fence that is 10 feet farther from the plate than last season.

The Orioles won the game's tensest showdown in the ninth when Hentgen and reliever Buddy Groom induced back-to-back grounders to escape a second-and-third jam with one out. The first out came when Bordick cut down Chris Stynes attempting to score from third. Ripken's backhanded stab of Carl Everett's shot to third brought on extra innings.

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