Walk, winning run cap debut to savor for rookie Gibbons

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

DH also has two hits

1-for-14 Ripken rests

April 08, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND - In order, Jay Gibbons yesterday received his first major-league start, his first hit, a game ball and a phone call from his father. He will forget none of them.

Gibbons, the Orioles' Rule 5 acquisition from the Toronto Blue Jays last December, made his appearance a memorable one as he produced a pair of first-pitch singles off Cleveland Indians starter Bartolo Colon, then accepted an 11th-inning walk that evolved into the winning run of a 4-2 game.

"It really still hasn't sunk in yet," Gibbons said. "I still feel like I started playing in the minor leagues yesterday."

Gibbons, 24, never had received an at-bat above Double-A before being called upon to pinch hit with two outs in the ninth inning of Friday night's 4-3 loss. Since spring training, he has done nothing except impress his new club with an aggressive approach and dogged work ethic. Yesterday, he represented a left-handed power deterrent against a right-handed power pitcher.

"He injected a little power into the lineup we hadn't had, and gave us a little different look," manager Mike Hargrove said.

Despite his singles, Gibbons' most important plate appearance came in the 11th when he waited out Rick Reed for a leadoff walk. Gibbons walked only once in spring training.

"Some of my best at-bats come when I'm patient and willing to take a walk," said Gibbons, who hit .333 in three minor-league seasons, including .321 at Double-A Tennessee last season.

Gibbons learned of his pending start from first base coach Eddie Murray Friday night. The moment was powerful enough for his cell phone to be ringing immediately after yesterday's win. "I knew it would be a big deal for my dad," he said. "As soon as I turned it on, it was him."

Ripken's day off

Hargrove used yesterday's encounter with Colon as an opportunity to rest 40-year-old third baseman Cal Ripken for the first time this season. Ripken was projected by Hargrove to play about 120 games this season if healthy, and yesterday provided the schedule's first day game after a night game.

Like much of the Orioles' lineup, Ripken is slumping. He left Friday night's game 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, dropping him to .071 (1-for-14) overall.

With Gibbons serving as designated hitter, Jeff Conine took over at third.

"It didn't really surprise me. I kind of expected it," said Ripken. "In hindsight, if I'd played five or six games a week last year I may not have experienced the problems with my back that I did."

Yesterday's day game also allowed Hargrove to rest catcher Brook Fordyce, who had caught all 35 innings of the club's first games. Rather than insert rookie Fernando Lunar, Hargrove went with veteran Greg Myers, a left-handed hitter with more pop than the developing Lunar.

Myers, whom the Orioles continue to push for trade, had not appeared since spring training. He grounded into an inning-ending double play in the second, struck out to end the fourth and failed to advance the potential go-ahead run with a fly ball in the seventh.

Known less for his defense, Myers blunted the Indians' first-inning rally by throwing out leadoff hitter Jacob Cruz on a botched hit-and-run.

McElroy's wait ends

Chuck McElroy's much-anticipated season debut as fifth starter occurs today. The Indians answer by giving prized prospect C.C. Sabathia his major-league debut.

McElroy has pointed toward this since last off-season. He does not look at this as a make-or-break opportunity.

"That stuff's out of my hands so why should I concern myself with it?" he said. "I can only go out there and do my job to the best of my ability. I'm not going to cheat myself. The evaluations are up to others."

The converted reliever warmed briefly during Wednesday night's game against the Boston Red Sox, then made a 10-pitch side session Thursday. While Hargrove allowed Pat Hentgen, Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson to throw a combined 24 1/3 innings during the Red Sox series, he will ask less of McElroy, who never made more than a five-inning appearance during spring training. Hargrove estimated McElroy's pitch limit would be "a little more" than 75-80.

Today's start will be only the third of McElroy's major-league career. Hargrove said last weekend that no assessment of McElroy's standing will be made until after McElroy makes "four or five starts."

Around the horn

Chris Richard took batting practice yesterday for the first time since bruising his right rotator cuff on an attempted diving catch in right field Wednesday. The Orioles did not expect Richard to bat this series but his history with Jacobs Field makes the possibility tempting. In his last game here, Richard ripped the Indians for a double, triple, two home runs and six RBIs. He came within a sinking line drive of hitting for the cycle but still ended up tying the club record with 13 total bases in a game. Richard appeared in yesterday's ninth inning as a pinch runner for Myers but did not remain in the game. ... How strange was Friday's four-walk seventh inning that produced the deciding run in the Indians' 4-3 win? Entering the inning, Orioles pitching had walked only eight in 35 innings. Two of those walks were intentional.

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