Opening Day

Orioles weather first test, 6-5

Blinded by snow, sun, Orioles see their way by Indians in 13 innings

`It was the strangest game'

Fly ball no one saw brings delay

Matthews' misjudged drive wins it

April 01, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The seasons seemed to change. Blue skies turned gray and then back again.

There was a snow dispute and a snow delay. Day became night. The Orioles looked listless and cursed, and then they looked like charmed, comeback kings.

Opening Day at Camden Yards turned into an epic saga yesterday - the longest home opener by innings in Orioles history and their longest opener anywhere since 1966.

An announced sellout crowd of 46,257 turned into a sea of scattered individuals. The Cleveland Indians took a 12th-inning lead on Omar Vizquel's run-scoring single, and the Orioles scored the tying run on a passed ball.

The game finally ended in the 13th inning, when Indians center fielder Milton Bradley misjudged a line drive by Gary Matthews with the bases loaded. The ball sailed over Bradley's head, and Jose Leon crossed home plate, giving the Orioles a 6-5 triumph.

"It was the strangest game," said Orioles right fielder Jay Gibbons. "I couldn't see because of the snow, and then the sun was in my eyes two minutes later. I've never been in anything like this."

Orioles starter Rodrigo Lopez made the first pitch at 3:22 p.m., under clear blue skies, with the temperature a rather pleasant 48 degrees. Indians reliever Jake Westbrook delivered the final pitch at 7:20 p.m., with the skies dark and the temperature feeling about 20 degrees cooler.

"It was pretty weird," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "It was kind of warm in [pre-game] introductions and got so cold, you could hardly breathe."

The scene turned surreal in the top of the second inning, as thick, feather-like snowflakes started falling and swirling in the wind.

When the Orioles went to bat in the second, the blue sky was back, and by the time they took the field again, it had resumed snowing. The Orioles finished last season with a 4-32 collapse, dropping their final 12 games, but somehow the fates had never seemed so cruel.

Matthews was in center field, straining to see the ball.

"I couldn't see the plate," he said. "I couldn't see the pitches and the locations."

Cleveland took a 3-1 lead with three runs off Lopez in the third inning, and he was the victim of two bad breaks. With one out, Matt Lawton hit a potential inning-ending double-play ball to Orioles first baseman Jeff Conine, but Conine's throw to second base was wide right and bounced into left field, allowing Bradley to score from second.

Then came a play the Orioles will probably remember all season, if not longer. Ellis Burks lifted a fly ball to right field, and it was so snowy, almost nobody in the ballpark could see it.

Second baseman Jerry Hairston gave chase, and first base umpire Chuck Meriwether moved down the right-field line, ducking in case the ball was near. Gibbons ran toward the right-field line, and the first anyone saw the ball again, it was bouncing behind Gibbons toward center field.

"I never saw it," Matthews said.

"I had no idea," Gibbons said.

"I knew it was a pop-up down the right-field line," Hargrove said.

"The hitter never saw it. The umpire didn't see it, and when he did see it, it was 20 foot fair and rolling between Jerry and Gibby."

Burks was credited with a run-scoring single, as Vizquel scored from second base.

Hargrove seemed convinced the ball landed foul, tailing right, and then bounced left off the wall. He made his case to plate umpire Tim Welke, to no avail. Welke stopped play, and the game resumed 13 minutes later under sunny blue skies.

Afterward, Hargrove had no hard feelings.

"It was tough conditions for everybody," he said. "It really was. Given clear conditions, it would have been called correctly."

The Orioles appeared stuck for the next hour or so, with C.C. Sabathia making it through seven innings with a 4-2 lead. In his managerial debut, Cleveland's Eric Wedge turned to reliever David Riske, and with two outs in the eighth, Marty Cordova tied the score with a two-run homer to left-center.

That gave the highly regarded Orioles bullpen a chance to shine. Rick Bauer, Buddy Groom and Jorge Julio com- bined on four scoreless innings. Kerry Ligtenberg gave up Cleveland's 12th-inning run, but the Orioles took him off the hook for the loss.

Matthews singled, advanced to second on a bunt by B.J. Surhoff, advanced to third on a grounder by Conine and scored with two outs on a passed ball by Indians rookie catcher Josh Bard.

Suddenly, fate was smiling on the Orioles.

Leon led off the 13th with an infield single. Geronimo Gil reached on Cleveland's fourth error, this one by Westbrook. With two outs, Westbrook loaded the bases when he hit Hairston with a pitch.

Matthews, whose failed sacrifice bunt attempt squandered a leadoff double in the ninth inning, atoned with the game-winning liner over Bradley's head.

Bradley made his first step in on the ball and wasn't able to get back in time to catch it.

Hairston jumped in Matthews' arms in celebration between first and second base.

"We talk about mental toughness," Hargrove said. "One of the separators from the good teams and the also-rans is they have to stay mentally tough and not let situations beat them. Our guys stayed tough today. They didn't quit. They kept battling probably more mentally than they did physically because of the conditions.

"Our guys really stayed focused on what we're trying to accomplish."

One down, 161 to go.

Should be an interesting year.

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