Riding 3-0 record, Orioles 'pumped up' to come home

Team's best 3-game start since 1997 'great way to start the season,' Hardy says

April 03, 2011|By Peter Schmuck, The Baltimore Sun

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Orioles manager Buck Showalter found himself trying to temper expectations again, which might be tiresome if it weren't the byproduct of another unlikely upsurge in the fortunes of his team.

When the Orioles defeated the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-1, on Sunday, they completed a three-game sweep at Tropicana Field and have started a new season with three straight victories for the first time since the 1997 team won its first four to begin a wire-to-wire to for the American League East title.

Apprised of this, Showalter upbraided the deliverer of that historical tidbit, as if the mention of such a connection might create bad karma. He has been raising expectations since the first day he appeared in the Orioles' dugout in August and trying to keep a lid on them at the same time.

That was a tall order on the way out of Florida. The Orioles open their home schedule Monday at Camden Yards, and — if the rumored demand for tickets on the secondary market is any indication — Orioles fans haven't been this excited in a long time.

"I'm glad," Showalter said. "I hope that's the case, but it's our responsibility, and it's going to take more than winning three games on the road. But it's a good start for us. If the fans are feeling good about it, that's an emotion I hope they have."

The players are pretty fired up, too. New third baseman Mark Reynolds, whose two RBI doubles were instrumental in Sunday's victory, would not understate the importance of the club's triumphant return to Baltimore.

"It's huge,'' he said. "It was important for us to get off to a good start, get some confidence going and kind of get that losing attitude out of here and come away with a sweep from the Rays. It just gets tougher. There are some good clubs coming in. I know everyone here will be pumped up to play in front of the hometown fans."

No doubt, part of that excitement is simply because the players have spent nearly two months on the Gulf Coast and they are itching to get settled in at home, but it was obvious late Sunday afternoon that they were leaving The Trop feeling pretty good about themselves.

And why not? Jeremy Guthrie got them off to a terrific start with an outstanding performance Friday night, and they went on to win the next two games even after the starting rotation had been thrown into disarray by the injury that put No. 2 starter Brian Matusz on the disabled list.

Chris Tillman filled the No. 2 hole and pitched six hitless innings, and rookie Zach Britton came up from the Triple-A roster a few weeks ahead of schedule to deliver a strong performance in his major league debut.

If anybody thinks the pitching staff feels like it stole a couple of games, don't mention that in front of Guthrie.

"There was no reason to think [Tillman and Britton] couldn't do that," he said. "Chris had a good spring, and Zach had a tremendous spring. With them going Saturday and Sunday, we all had tremendous confidence in them."

The Orioles' bullpen had a couple of scary moments but did a decent job overall, and the new-look offense delivered key hits in each of the three games. The Orioles swept the series without really taking the wraps off their seemingly power-packed lineup, but that even contributed the notion that there might be bigger and better things to come.

"It just adds to the confidence we had coming out of spring training,'' said new shortstop J.J. Hardy, who drove in two big runs with a double Sunday. "It's just a great way to start the season."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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