How exciting is Orioles' start? Just ask Earl

April 04, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

A postcard afternoon at Camden Yards. A 5-1 Orioles win in their home opener over the Detroit Tigers on Monday. A 4-0 record and first place in the American League East. Tell me something: Is Buck Showalter's mojo really this powerful?

Here's how good this club is going: Derrek Lee even stole a base. OK, fine, the new first baseman is only 35 years old. He's not exactly ready for a walker. But know how many bases he stole the past two seasons? One and one.

I'm sorry, but if D-Lee is feeling feisty enough to summon his inner Rickey Henderson, you know there's a major attitude shift at work here.

On the other hand, it's not like everything went off without a hitch for the Orioles in front of a sellout crowd of 46,593.

The first glitch came when Orioles legend Earl Weaver came out to throw the ceremonial first pitch to Showalter and the Camden Yards scoreboard flashed: "Earl Weaver — General Manager."

This would have been big news to Weaver, the Hall of Famer who was actually the brilliant field manager of the Orioles for 17-plus seasons, during which his teams won 1,480 games.

Weaver, 80, followed this by uncorking one of the ugliest throws you'll ever see, a left-handed bouncer in the dirt that was scooped up nicely by Showalter.

I figured Weaver would find a way to blame Jim Palmer, his old nemesis, for the throw. But the Hall of Fame pitcher was up in the broadcast booth. So Weaver blamed his arthritic arms instead.

"The right one can't throw the ball," he said later in his trademark rasp, "so I had to use the left. And that was no good, either. So what are you going to do?"

Still, that was some heavy symbolism at work, the feisty, brilliant manager who oversaw the Orioles' glory years throwing to the new manager charged with bringing the glory back to a franchise that has been beaten over the head with a shovel the past 13 seasons.

But as Weaver listened to the thunderous standing ovation Showalter received in the pre-game introductions, he sensed that the atmosphere surrounding the longtime American League East doormat might be changing.

"Fantastic. Unreal," Weaver said of how the crowd greeted Showalter. "Yes, sir, he's gonna be a favorite here, it looks like, for a long, long time. Whoever invented the phrase 'Buck's Birds,' that should stick. Because that's what it's gonna be."

No matter how much credit you give Showalter for his team's resurgence, it was another strong outing for the Orioles, who start the season 4-0 for the first time since 1997.

Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta scattered six hits over six innings to continue the marvelous run of pitching (four straight quality starts) by this young rotation.

Brian Roberts continues to pound the ball — his three-run shot in the fifth was his second homer of the season, and he has driven in eight runs. Nick Markakis is so locked in, he's a base-hit machine, batting .429. And the defense has been solid, even spectacular in a couple of instances.

And all of it has put Showalter in the curious position of actually having to downplay his team's terrific start.

Monday, during his post-game remarks, he was asked whether any of the previous teams he has managed — the New York Yankees, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Texas Rangers — had ever gotten off to a 4-0 start.

For a moment, he looked puzzled.

"I don't even know," he said. "I can tell you what the records were at the end of the year. You know, it's funny, you've been fortunate enough to be around players who have won 100 games in a season and 95 losses in the expansion year.

"And through those, you've had periods with 100 wins when you lost four or five in a row and with 95 losses when you've won four or five in a row. So you try to grip on reality. It's tough to do sometimes."

Well, maybe. But no one who watches baseball around here wants to wants to go back to the dreary reality of the past 13 seasons, when this team lost its way and Camden Yards stopped being a fun place to visit.

Especially not the little white-haired guy who threw out the first pitch Monday, the guy who would sit in front of the TV down in Pembroke Pines, Fla., all these years, watching his old team and trying not to cringe.

"I'll be frank," Weaver said. "When they were going bad, I was kind of disappointed and kind of got away from them. They're still my favorite team and still the first box score I look at in the morning. But now, when they start winning, it's exciting."

Weaver's right. The Orioles are 4-0. Who knows how long this win streak lasts? But there hasn't been this kind of excitement around this team in a long, long time.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Listen to Kevin Cowherd from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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