For starters, Gil is a standout

Opening Day debut is hit in all phases for catcher

April 02, 2002|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

A rookie hadn't started behind the plate for the Orioles in 36 years, but Geronimo Gil wasn't looking at history. He was working on his future.

One of seven Orioles making a major-league, Opening Day roster for the first time, Gil was the lone starter in the group. By the end of the afternoon, he had made the most of his opportunity and his name was fast becoming familiar to the fans who crammed into Oriole Park for yesterday's opener against the New York Yankees.

Gil (pronounced Heronimo Heel) started the afternoon with an error that allowed the Yankees to score the first run of the game. But he made amends the rest of the day, getting a single and double in four at-bats, driving in two runs, scoring one and throwing out two runners as the Orioles rolled, 10-3.

"It didn't start out off so good," said Rick Dempsey, the Orioles' new first base coach and the team's Opening Day catcher from 1977 through 1986. "But after that first inning, he fell right into the groove. He didn't seem to let that one bad throw bother him, and he did an outstanding job."

Asked before the game if he was nervous, Gil said: "No. I've had good spring, good coaching. I will work hard and keep it simple."

The jitters did seem to catch up to him for a moment in the first inning. Gil's throw was just wide of third baseman Tony Batista's outstretched glove, allowing New York's Derek Jeter to score on an attempted double steal.

"It was just baseball," said Gil, 26. "[Errors] are part of the game. You just go on and play."

He did that. He threw out Shane Spencer to end the second inning and nailed Bernie Williams trying to steal in the fourth, and as the umpire signaled the out, a soft smile played joyfully on Gil's face.

Last season, it took five games for the Orioles to throw out two runners. "He's a heck of a thrower," Dempsey said. "He's going to stop the running game for us, that's for sure."

Manager Mike Hargrove also was pleased after Gil became the first Orioles rookie to start behind the plate on Opening Day since Andy Etchebarren in 1966.

"Geronimo doesn't say much off the field, but he reads the pitches very well and he has enough excitement and energy about him to get everyone going. He infuses his energy in everybody ... and that's what this ballclub needs."

Asked if his hitting or his throwing made him most happy in this game, Gil, a native of Oaxaca, Mexico, smiled a long time before answering.

"It all feels good," he said. "But this is just one game. There are a heck of a lot more games to go. All of us here expect more from ourselves."

Rookie pitcher Rodrigo Lopez also made his Opening Day debut. He pitched one inning, allowing two hits and two runs. But for Lopez, it was simply a thrill to be on the roster.

"I was quiet when they told me I'd made the team," said Lopez. "I didn't know what to do. But inside, I was so happy. I can't explain. It was the greatest news I ever heard."

The feeling was much the same for infielder Mike Moriarty, 28, and outfielder Luis Garcia, 26. Moriarty had toiled seven years in the minors without a call-up, and Garcia had played the past three seasons in the Mexican League.

"When I told Luis he'd made the ballclub, he gave me a brief smile - it was more than I'd gotten from him all through spring training," Hargrove said. "And Mike, he really was excited. He tried hard not to grin, but he grinned. It was fun to watch them."

Pitchers Jorge Julio and Rick Bauer and outfielder Larry Bigbie also made their major-league, Opening Day debuts.

"I'm not the youngest guy to break into the major leagues," Moriarty said. "But I'm happy for the opportunity. I plan to do my job and hope this is the start of something great."

Said Garcia: "I didn't get in the game, but it was a fine game because we won. Gil looked great and Rodrigo got in, too. You know, we're all rooting for each other."

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