Tinge of orange makes PNC even more striking

June 07, 2005|By Peter Schmuck

PITTSBURGH - Mystery solved.

When David Newhan opened last night's game at PNC Park with a single to right-center field, a cheer arose from the crowd of 15,860 that, well, reminded me of when the Yankees visit Camden Yards.

When Miguel Tejada followed with a mammoth two-out home run, the Pittsburgh chapter of the Orioles expatriates burst into applause again, this time making me think of the way Oriole Park sometimes seems like Red Sox Nation.

Orioles officials have been searching for a big portion of their fan following since April, which featured the three smallest crowds in the history of Camden Yards. Turns out, they were right here all along right here on the Allegheny River.

And you thought that it was the first- place Washington Nationals who were luring fans away from the Inner Harbor. I'll tell you this much: There are worse ways to spend a beautiful summer evening. PNC Park is another Oriole Park descendant that features one of the most striking outfield views anywhere.

The panoramic skyline towers over the river and twin yellow bridges that connect the ballpark to downtown. Tourist steamboats sail past in the distance. It's a fabulous tableau that rivals Camden Yards in Baltimore and SBC Park in San Francisco. Frankly, it's almost hard to believe you're in Pittsburgh.

It's also a little hard to believe there are a significant number of Orioles fans here, but it probably helped that a contingent of Orioles Designated Hitters (the club's auxiliary season-ticket sales staff) came over yesterday on a bus to cheer their team's banged-up starting lineup.

Manager Lee Mazzilli surveyed his roster yesterday and proclaimed that the team ought to be sponsored by Johnson & Johnson, the company that makes Band-Aids. If only such minor patchwork were enough.

Newhan and Chris Gomez opened the game with back-to- back singles, which ought to tell you something. If anyone had predicted that they would be batting 1-2 in the Orioles" lineup in early June, certainly no one would have dreamed that it would be on one of the two first- place teams in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The Orioles opened their first interleague road series with only four players from Plan A in the starting lineup. Melvin Mora, Miguel Tejada, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro have been bunched in the middle of the batting order for most of the young season, but Mazzilli has been plugging holes everywhere else for the past three weeks.

Sal Fasano was behind the plate, buying a little more time until Javy Lopez gets back from a broken hand, but that day isn't exactly around the corner. B.J. Surhoff continues to be a steadying influence in the outfield with Luis Matos and Larry Bigbie on the disabled list.

There has been some good news, and it has nothing to do with my car insurance. Matos could be a week away from heading out on an injury rehabilitation assignment. Pitcher Erik Bedard also has made progress in his recovery from a sprained left knee, though he was eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list yesterday and still has no timetable for returning to the rotation.

It wasn't the best time to embark on the longest road trip of the year, but the Orioles took another week off the get-well calendar by winning four of the first seven games in Boston and Detroit.

Considering the discouraging way that they lost Thursday at Fenway Park - on that stunning walk-off home run by David Ortiz - going .500-plus for the first half of the trip was a major gut-check.

Can't say I'm totally surprised, especially after reviewing the I.S.A.M. results for some of these guys, but this 13-game trip might have been the perfect time for an imperfect pennant contender to collapse.

Instead, a surprising number of Orioles fans - many thought to be extinct - journeyed to Pittsburgh to see their team continue its unlikely stay at the top of the AL East standings.

It was a great sign, and their faith - not to mention the four- hour drive - was rewarded with another exciting late-inning victory. So far on this grueling trip, the Orioles have done more than just survive.

Contact Peter Schmuck at peter.schmuck@baltsun.com.

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