It's too early to judge Orioles after dismal end to good game

April 07, 2010|By Peter Schmuck

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Andy MacPhail had to feel like an expectant father as he watched batting practice before the Orioles opened the regular season against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field.

This team is his baby, but the Orioles' president of baseball operations is not the only one who is wondering what it's going to look like.

Orioles fans have been debating the relative merits and demerits of this year's team for months, and now it's time to find out whether MacPhail did enough over the winter to push the O's a significant step closer to legitimate contention in the American League East.

MacPhail was quick to point out that you don't find that out on Opening Night, which is a good thing, considering the dismal end to a game the Orioles never trailed until that final devastating swing by Carl Crawford.

"I said this on the radio the other day and I probably shouldn't be saying it, but I always like to get Opening Day behind me," MacPhail said. "Let's just get into the routine of baseball."

I'm sure he means that, but don't kid yourself. He was living and dying with every pitch that Kevin Millwood threw in his Orioles debut. He fixated on every at-bat by Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins. And he pretty much admitted that under intense cross-examination.

"They're all yours if they're wearing orange and black," MacPhail said, "but you'd be less than honest if you didn't say you're rooting a little more for the guys wearing the orange and black for the first time."

He had plenty to root for on this night, since every player he brought in from outside the organization except recent acquisition Julio Lugo appeared in the game and played an important role for better or worse. Most of them for better, but the worse outweighed it all.

Millwood delivered the kind of resourceful performance the Orioles acquired him for. Miguel Tejada went hitless but played surprisingly solid defense at third. Garrett Atkins popped up the first pitch in a big fourth-inning situation but delivered what should have been a big double in the ninth. New reliever Will Ohman did his job in the seventh before new closer Michael Gonzalez let it get away in a flurry of line drives.

Not the way you want to introduce this team to a jaundiced fan following, but what are you going to do?

Millwood's performance was particularly noteworthy, because of all the doubts that sprung up around him in training camp. He took a couple of poundings early in the exhibition season and spent the rest of March pitching on the back fields against minor league competition.

That's not the kind of thing that's going to instill confidence in your new No. 1 starter, but MacPhail and manager Dave Trembley were resolute in their confidence that he would be ready when it counted.

Trembley talked often about trusting his veterans to know what they had to do, and Millwood made him look like Connie Mack, giving up just two runs through five-plus innings in a tense duel with reputed Orioles-killer James Shields.

It wasn't a great outing. He allowed 10 baserunners and left in trouble. But he outpitched Shields, who entered the game with a 6-2 career record and 2.92 ERA in 15 appearances against the Orioles.

Meanwhile, the Orioles generating the power in the lineup were the guys who did it last year. Adam Jones launched his first home run to right-center in the third, and Luke Scott hit a mammoth shot that hit the bottom of the scoreboard. Matt Wieters, whose power was scarce during the Grapefruit League season, led off the sixth with the third O's homer of the game.

Trouble was, the Orioles could hit the ball out of the park but could not do it with runners on base. In particular, they had runners at second and third with no one out in the fourth and runners at first and third with no one out in the ninth. Good teams score in those situations. Bad teams don't.

It's too early to make a judgment like that, but you can be sure MacPhail is happy to have this game behind him.

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "Sportsline" on WBAL (1090 AM), and check out "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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