- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2001

BALTIMORE Their best offensive weapon is no longer playing baseball, his career ended prematurely by a degenerative hip condition.
Their superstar of the past two decades had all of eight days of spring training to ready himself for the regular season.
Their prospects for their first winning record in four years, based on nearly every preseason prognosticator, are hopeless.
And their reward for all this? A date with the game's most dominating pitcher right off the bat.
Such is life for the Baltimore Orioles, who open the 2001 season today against the Boston Red Sox and ace Pedro Martinez in what would seem like a colossal mismatch if not for the overflowing air of confidence emanating from the Orioles' clubhouse at Camden Yards yesterday.
"We're very confident," second baseman Jerry Hairston said, "even though a lot of people are counting us out. We've got a lot of guys with a lot of character in here, and hopefully it will carry over to the field."
High spirits aside, Baltimore embarks on the new season with expectations as low as they've been in more than a decade. The Orioles are coming off a 74-88 season, their third straight losing record. Mike Bordick is the only player on the roster to have hit 20 home runs last year, now that Albert Belle's career is over. And Pat Hentgen, 15-12 with a 4.72 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2000, takes over as staff ace with the departure of Mike Mussina to New York.
All that and more have left preseason publications across the country picking Baltimore to finish no higher than fourth, and in many cases fifth, in the American League East.
"The one thing I've learned about prognosticators is they don't know much more than I do," said manager Mike Hargrove, who admitted to picking Maryland over Duke in Saturday's college basketball national semifinal.
For the Orioles to silence the critics today, they'll have to do something few have been able to do: beat Martinez. The 29-year-old right-hander is bidding for his third straight Cy Young Award and may actually be getting better with age. In 19 innings of work this spring, he gave up one run and struck out 24 batters.
"It's a tough challenge. It's probably the toughest challenge," said Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken, whose fractured rib healed in time for the 40-year-old star to appear in the final eight spring training games. "He's close to unbeatable right now."
Hentgen, the man with the unenviable task of starting opposite Martinez, does own a Cy Young Award of his own he earned the 1996 trophy while with the Toronto Blue Jays. But the 32-year-old, making the third Opening Day start of his career, can't compare with today's counterpart.
"You can't focus on that," Hentgen said. "I'm not pitching against their pitcher. I'm pitching against their hitters. I'm going to go out there and pitch my game."
Hentgen and the Orioles will be aided by the fact that the Red Sox, aside from Martinez, come to town a mess. Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra was placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 21, with a wrist injury that will likely require surgery and will sideline him up to four months.
Offseason free-agent signee Manny Ramirez missed most of spring training with a pulled hamstring. All-Star center fielder Carl Everett and manager Jimy Williams are feuding, and veterans Dante Bichette and Jose Offerman have been inexplicably benched, leaving the Red Sox with a makeshift lineup that Williams has yet to finalize.
Four surprise starters will likely be in Boston's lineup this afternoon: second baseman Chris Stynes, third baseman Shea Hillenbrand, shortstop Craig Grebeck and designated hitter Scott Hatteberg.
The Orioles, meanwhile, had their starting lineup posted before yesterday's team workout at Camden Yards. The batting order is identical to the one Hargrove used in the final two days of spring training, with a few changes in the field Brady Anderson will start in right field, with Delino DeShields in left and Chris Richard at DH.
Still, Baltimore can't avoid the inevitable criticism that comes with three straight losing seasons and few prospects for a turnaround. For now, the Orioles will be content to ignore the naysayers and simply play baseball.
"We're going to win," center fielder Melvin Mora said. "I know a lot of people say, 'Look at the team, look at the team.' Well, you know what? I want to see what happens at the end of the year. People don't believe it now, but later they will."

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