Batista, O's open with bang

Ripken replacement hits slam to down Yanks, Clemens, 10-3

`I just try to be myself'

Scratch hit off hand of `Rocket' precedes 5 runs in 4th, 3 in 5th

April 02, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The post-Cal Ripken era began yesterday with the man who took his position hitting a grand slam off a six-time Cy Young Award winner and the Orioles crushing the New York Yankees by seven runs.

Tony Batista could play 2,632 consecutive games and not have many go better than that.

The new Orioles full-time third baseman hit his momentous grand slam off Roger Clemens in the fourth inning, and the Orioles cruised to a 10-3 victory before 48,058 at Camden Yards, the largest Opening Day crowd in the ballpark's history.

Ripken visited the Orioles' clubhouse about 30 minutes before they took the field, and then watched the proceedings from his suite. Afterward, Batista looked like the player who seemed the least fazed. Basically, he said, he hasn't given this whole replacing Ripken thing much thought.

"I just try to be myself," Batista said. "I think he [Ripken] enjoyed that home run, and we did, too."

The grand slam seemed all the more improbable considering the way Clemens started the game. He retired 10 of the first 11 batters he faced and then the Orioles caught their first big break of the season. David Segui, who singled in the first inning, smacked a bouncer to Clemens, who reached for it with his bare hand. The ball glanced off Clemens' hand, toward shortstop Derek Jeter, and Segui reached with another single.

The Yankees trainers and manager Joe Torre went to the mound to check on Clemens. He tossed a couple of warm-up pitches and remained in the game. Clemens later went to the University of Maryland Medical Center for precautionary X-rays, but they showed no broken bones in his hand.

"It was obvious that the ball off the hand affected him," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said.

After sustaining the injury, Clemens walked Jeff Conine and Jay Gibbons, loading the bases for Batista.

In his first at-bat against Clemens, Batista battled through an eight-pitch at-bat before hitting a harmless fly to right field. But this time, Clemens threw a first-pitch fastball right down the middle and Batista lifted a towering home run over the center-field fence.

It was Batista's fifth career grand slam and the second one in franchise history for the Orioles on Opening Day. Eddie Murray had the other one, on April 5, 1982, against the Kansas City Royals at Memorial Stadium.

"As soon as he walked Gibbons, I said I was going to swing at the first pitch," Batista said.

The Orioles still weren't finished with their assault on Clemens. Melvin Mora walked and stole second base, and then Geronimo Gil hit a run-scoring single, making it a five-run inning.

In the fifth, Mora hit a three-run double to give the Orioles an 8-1 lead before Torre finally pulled Clemens from the game.

"He came in after the fourth inning and said he felt fine," Torre said of leaving Clemens in to pitch the fifth. "So I had no hesitation."

The Orioles scored more than they would need to help make Scott Erickson a winner in his first start since July 25, 2000. After missing 20 months in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, Erickson held the Yankees to one run, unearned, and three hits in six innings.

A year ago, the Orioles went 5-13 against the Yankees. They acquired Batista from the Toronto Blue Jays in June, figuring he'd be a power bat who could eventually replace Ripken at third. But after hitting 41 home runs two years ago for Toronto, Batista hit just 12 last year for the Orioles in 84 games.

Against Clemens, Batista took a big swing and made contact well in front of the plate.

"That's how he gets his home runs," said Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley. "He has a knack of catching the ball out front with his bat and sending it a long, long way for a man his size."

Last year, Batista played just 29 games at third base, as Ripken was making his farewell tour before retiring after 21 seasons with the club.

"If there's somebody to handle the task [of replacing Ripken], Tony's the perfect guy," Segui said. "He doesn't worry about it too much. Nobody's going to forget Cal. Tony could hit 100 home runs and nobody's going to forget Cal."

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