For sake of opener, O's victory a big relief

April 09, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

New York -- It was only one game, just like the ugly one the day before, but to understand the impact of yesterday's 6-4 victory at Yankee Stadium on today's Opening Day ceremonies at Oriole Park, you have to consider the alternative.

The Orioles were in largely the same situation in the late innings yesterday as they were Saturday, when the Yankees staged a huge comeback and Alex Rodriguez hit a walk-off grand slam against a supposedly new and improved Orioles bullpen.

If the new setup guys and Chris Ray had blown this one, too, you have to wonder what kind of reaction each would have gotten as he jogged in from the outfield on the Opening Day orange carpet.

I'm thinking something like, "Oh, no, not him again," which is not exactly a healthy attitude at this early point in the season.

Whatever optimism the Orioles engendered this spring was dependent on the club's ability to hold late-inning leads, which is why Saturday's collapse was so devastating and why yesterday's series-clinching victory was so uplifting. The lack of consistent relief cost the Orioles 18 games in which they were tied or leading after six innings last year. To be modestly competitive in the tough American League East, they need to cut that number in half with this new relief crew.

That's just one of the reasons another meltdown yesterday would have cast a shadow over today's Opening Day celebration. There's also the emotional carnage wrought by losses like the one that prevented the Orioles from entering yesterday with a chance at their first three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium since 1986.

The Orioles could easily have watched Rodriguez launch another mammoth home run in the Yankees' three-run first inning yesterday and psychologically packed up their equipment bags and headed home with just one victory on the season-opening six-game trip.

Wouldn't that have made for a great party today?

Instead, Kevin Millar and Paul Bako woke up at the plate and propelled the Orioles into the lead with their first home runs of the year, and Erik Bedard rebounded from the shaky first inning to shut down the Yankees through the seventh. The only thing left was for the bullpen to stand at the edge of the abyss and somehow not fall into it this time.

Six games into a new season, it's too early to tell whether it was a truly significant win, but the important thing is that it wasn't another demoralizing loss. Left-hander John Parrish extricated the team from a bases-loaded situation in the eighth inning, Ray pitched a scoreless ninth to record his second save and the fans in Baltimore were saved the difficult task of trying to look excited today for no apparent reason.

Of course, there will remain a twinge of regret that an opportunity to sweep the hated Yankees in the Bronx was right there like low-hanging fruit, but winning a series at Yankee Stadium is no small feat. The difference between a 2-4 record and 1-5 might not seem like much, and yet the circumstances of that second victory will allow fans to show up at Camden Yards today with a little more skip in their step.

Don't think for a minute that's not important.

It's not like I'm looking for real estate in Jimmyville this week, but the Orioles did show me something I didn't expect to see after that dismal season-opening series in Minnesota.

They showed a kind of resilience you don't usually find in a team that's going nowhere. They seemed primed to limp out of New York with their self-esteem in a sling - especially after A-Rod took another big swing at them in the first inning - but they should return to Baltimore feeling like they can compete with anyone, and they'll get a chance to prove it against the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers this afternoon.

"It was a devastating loss [Saturday]," Millar said, "but we showed a lot of character as a group to get back out there and play hard. After falling behind three runs in the first inning, I think it was a big win for us early in the season."

Indeed it was, if only because it will allow Opening Day to feel like a party instead of a wake.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

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