- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2001

BALTIMORE. There was so much disrespect for the Baltimore Orioles before yesterday's opener against the Boston Red Sox that the talk wasn't whether the Orioles would win, but whether they would even get a hit against the mighty Pedro Martinez.

Seriously. The Boston papers were suggesting that the lowly Orioles might not even get a hit against "Pedro Power," as one Boston radio station has dubbed Martinez and the hoopla that accompanies his starts.

Well, baby, for a while they were getting a no-hitter, but not the no-hitter they expected. And while Martinez turned in a very Pedro-like performance allowing one run on four hits, walking one and striking out six in seven innings pitched it was not the most dominant pitching performance of the game.

Baltimore starter Pat Hentgen outpitched the great Pedro yesterday in an exciting and significant 11-inning, 2-1 Orioles win, and he didn't do it with a blinding fastball or a drop dead curve. He did it with the guts that a proud veteran hurler can sometimes summon for a moment such as Opening Day.

Hentgen held the Red Sox to four hits in 8 2/3 innings, allowing just one run, striking out six and walking just one batter, and that was intentional. He had no-hit Boston through the first three innings before Trot Nixon homered with one out in the top of the fourth.

When Hentgen walked off the mound with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, he received a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd at Camden Yards, who fully appreciated that Hentgen went toe-to-toe with the best pitcher in baseball without the same firepower that his opponent had.

"There is no backdown in Pat Hentgen," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove. "I think realistically that 99.9 percent of the people in America today saw the matchup with Pedro and wrote us off. To be able to do what Pat did, it takes a mentally tough individual."

Hentgen, 32, was a Cy Young Award winner in 1996 with the Toronto Blue Jays and has had a stellar career that includes a 120-88 record. He is coming off a 15-win season last year with the St. Louis Cardinals. But there was a school of thought out there that believed Hentgen had lost too much off his fastball to be effective any longer that he had lost his stuff.

That was not a baseless point of view. After all, it was clear that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had lost faith in Hentgen by the end of last season. He pitched just one game in the postseason for La Russa, and that was a disaster for Hentgen, who allowed six runs on seven hits and five walks in 3 2/3 innings against the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series.

And Hentgen didn't make it easy to dismiss those questions in spring training. In his final two starts of the spring, he gave up seven runs on 12 hits in six innings on March 23 against St. Louis, and five runs on six hits and three walks in five innings against Florida on March 28.

But yesterday he was the Cy Young Hentgen, with great command of his pitches better than the great Pedro, who took himself out of the game after seven innings and 92 pitches. "I know what Pat is capable of, and he can pitch with you in every single moment of the game," Martinez said. "He out-threw me today and he really pitched well."

We've seen this before at Camden Yards. Rick Sutcliffe was near the end when he took the mound for the first Opening Day at Camden Yards in 1992, and shut out a powerful Cleveland team 2-0, with guts and veteran savvy. Five years later, Jimmy Key, in his last year in baseball, did the same thing, filling in as the Opening Day starter for an injured Mike Mussina and beating Kansas City 4-2 with a masterful pitching performance, when what Key had left by then was not much more than the competitive spirit that drove him.

No one knows if Hentgen is at that stage of his career, or if he has more left in him than some people think. But he is cut from the same cloth as Sutcliffe and Key, fueled by pride and competitiveness as much, if not more, than talent. "He is a player," Hargrove said in praise of his ace. "I'd say he is a warrior, but this is baseball, not war. You don't win Cy Young awards and championships without being a player. I think Pat relishes the competition."

After the game, Hentgen showed why is so highly regarded as a "player," heaping well-deserved praise on his team's defense Cal Ripken made several big plays at third base, including one in the top of the ninth, snaring a ground ball by Carl Everett with runners on first and third with two outs and the game called by catcher Brook Fordyce. "I made some great pitches when I had to, but they played great defensively behind me," he said. "Brook did a great job behind the plate, too, mixing up my pitches and calling a great game. This was a great team win."

Yes it was. That can't be understated. This was a four-star win for the Orioles. They won an extra-inning game. They won a one-run game. They beat an American League East opponent, and they beat the best pitcher in the game. When you can go up against Pedro Martinez and not be losing when he leaves the game, you have to win that game.

Pat Hentgen knew that. He learned it from one of the all-time competitors, Jack Morris. "I try to do the best that I can, and throw as many pitches as I can for as long as I can," he said. "I learned that from Jack Morris in 1992."

Now the Orioles young pitchers have a chance to learn it from Hentgen. "You couldn't have a better guy to learn from," said Orioles pitching coach Mark Wiley. "He showed our starting pitchers today what it takes to be a major league pitcher."

Sidney Ponson, a textbook case of great potential held back by even greater immaturity, takes the mound tomorrow for the Orioles against Hideo Nomo. Let's hope he was paying attention.

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