O's touch 'em all

4 homers, 14 hits drive revamped O's by Tampa Bay in opener

Orioles 9 Devil Rays 6

April 04, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

For one day, spring worries about their offense proved unfounded, as Opening Day pre-game pomp and circumstance gave way to an Orioles hit parade.

Four Orioles home runs, 14 hits and Chris Ray's first major league save later, manager Sam Perlozzo had his first win without the interim title, a 9-6 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays before 46,986 yesterday at Camden Yards, where the sellout crowd cheered the old and welcomed the new.

Luis Matos, Melvin Mora, Miguel Tejada and Jeff Conine hit bases-empty homers, and three offseason additions to the lineup - Conine, Kevin Millar and Ramon Hernandez - went a combined 6-for-11 with four RBIs to help extend the Orioles' Opening Day winning streak to six games, the longest active streak in the majors.

The normally reliable Rodrigo Lopez battled through an uneven performance, but on this day, when the line drives off the home team's bats were as thunderous as the pre-game fireworks, it didn't matter.

"We are feeling good when we start the season winning," said Tejada, who was 2-for-5 with two runs. "The way we were hitting today, that's what we want."

The clubhouse sound system, next to Tejada's locker, blared the refrain, "Don't worry about a thing," from Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds." It was a fitting song for Perlozzo, who spent the spring fielding questions about his dormant offense.

"I feel like our lineup is strong from top to bottom," said Perlozzo. "I really believe that we'll hit. This is just one game. It is a great win for us and the organization. But we have a long way to go."

Asked about the music, which Perlozzo allows only after victories, he said: "If it's a big one, I'll tell them to turn it up. Hopefully, you'll be tired of hearing it."

It was an emotional day for Perlozzo, who, while managing in his first Opening Day, said he choked up several times, thinking about his late parents and his friend Elrod Hendricks, the longtime Orioles coach who died in December and was honored before yesterday's game.

The day started under dark skies and sporadic rain, but the sun began to break through in the second inning, just about the time the Orioles started to wear out Tampa Bay's 22-year-old left-hander, Scott Kazmir, with their patience.

Staked to a 2-0 lead after a 439-foot, leadoff homer by Jonny Gomes, Kazmir surrendered a double to Millar in his first at-bat as an Oriole, an RBI triple to Javy Lopez and a game-tying single to Hernandez. By the time he took the mound in the third, Kazmir had a 4-2 lead but his pitch count had swelled to 60.

"When you got Javier Lopez hitting eighth and Ramon Hernandez hitting ninth, it's a tough lineup, man," Millar said. "The key going into today's game was to have [Kazmir] working a little bit. From there, our offense just tried to get in their bullpen."

Tejada deposited Kazmir's 1-2 pitch into the left-field bleachers in the third, and it was his single, after Matos' and Mora's back-to-back homers in the Orioles' four-run fifth, that finally chased the Devil Rays' starter, who gave up six runs and eight hits.

It marked the second consecutive year Matos homered on Opening Day, the first player to accomplish that feat since Frank Robinson did it in 1969 and 1970. It was also just the second time in team history that the Orioles hit back-to-back homers on Opening Day.

Every Orioles starter had a hit, and the four home runs tied a franchise record for Opening Day. The Orioles, who finished last or close to it in most offensive categories this spring, had just 14 homers in 30 exhibition games.

Tejada, who had a particularly tough time in the Grapefruit League, going 1-for-22 at one point, said he was annoyed that his spring training struggles were so well-documented. One of his teammates also found it peculiar.

"I laughed about some of the stuff you heard about Tejada early on," Millar said. "I was like, `Let me tell you, boys, there's a new light switch that comes Opening Day.' Tejada is a former MVP of this league. He knows where the light switch is at, and he showed it today."

Rodrigo Lopez, who got the win despite allowing five earned runs and seven hits over seven innings, surrendered a two-run homer to Devil Rays first baseman Travis Lee in the sixth to cut the Orioles' lead to 7-6. But an RBI double by Jay Gibbons in the bottom half and Conine's homer in the seventh padded the lead for the bullpen.

Offseason acquisition LaTroy Hawkins pitched a perfect eighth, and Ray, the 24-year-old closer who is filling the role of the departed B.J. Ryan, worked a perfect ninth. When Toby Hall popped out to second baseman Brian Roberts to end the game, Ray pounded his fist into his glove, and Tejada, Roberts and Mora broke into their signature handshake that accompanies every Orioles win.

"With the way our hitters did today and with Rodrigo keeping it where it was, I just wanted to get the game over with," Ray said. "It feels great. I really wanted to get my first one under the belt."

Unbeknown to Perlozzo, Ray had the game ball in his locker, but it may not stay there very long.

"I probably am going to have to wrestle him for it," Perlozzo said.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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