- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2001

BALTIMORE. As every baseball man since Connie Mack probably has insisted, it's foolish to ascertain too many portents and draw too many parallels from Opening Day. But let's do it anyway, just for fun.
Back in 1989, when there actually were lots of ballplayers who weren't millionaires, the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Boston Red Sox 5-4 in 11 innings on Opening Day. Then, miraculously, a 54-107 team the year before transformed itself into an 87-75 contender that wasn't eliminated from the American League East pennant race until the final weekend.
Twelve years later, nobody expects anything from this year's Orioles, who started their presumed season of despair with a 2-1 victory over the same Red Sox yesterday at Camden Yards.
Reporters, after the game: "Could it happen again, guys?"
The Orioles (to a man): "It's only one game."
Indeed it is but players wearing black and orange undoubtedly said the same thing in '89, and look what happened.
Can these Orioles, stripped of most high-priced stars and robbed of dignity in baseball circles by despotic owner Peter Angelos, emerge as a factor in the division race?
It's possible not likely, but possible. And in baseball, sometimes all you need is that possibility.
"Yeah, people have been rubbing that parallel in our faces all spring," 13-year Oriole Brady Anderson was complaining. If you're sick of hearing it, Brady, then why did you drive in Jerry Hairston with the winning run in the 11th? And why did you guys hang tough against Pedro Martinez all day? The three-time Cy Young Award winner was gone by the finish, but the O's weren't supposed to beat his team on a day when he was in good form just like they weren't supposed to beat Roger Clemens in the '89 opener.
"It's a different situation," Anderson insisted. "Back then we were coming off a terrible season, and there was no dominant club like there is now."
So you won't concede that the Orioles could surprise people as much as they did then?
"I think maybe we already have."
People in uniform hate questions like this. The idea in baseball is to remain steady, whatever steady produces, and not to stress one game more than another. But where Opening Day is concerned, it's all a lot of bullfeathers.
If Opening Day really is no more than 1/162nd of the season, why didn't Hairston sleep Sunday night before embarking on his first full major league season?
"Not a wink," he was saying ruefully, "and earlier today I had a stomach ache. I kept thinking, 'I'm starting at second base in the major leagues tomorrow, and Pedro Martinez is the pitcher.' "
Hey, Jerry, it's just one game. You guys are supposed to be lousy, remember. Keep your head down and your eyes focused on the ground, meaning fifth place.
"We don't care what people are saying. We hope we'll be lousy on paper and good on the field."
So, what's it really like, facing Pedro Martinez on Opening Day? How does a squirt like you get a single and double against somebody who's so untouchable he should be from India (plus, of course, that lovely second double off Derek Lowe to open the 11th)?
"You don't think of who's pitching. When that ball leaves his hand, it's just you and the ball."
Well, a lot of people have said baseball is a simple game.
It should be noted that the Orioles weren't exactly beating the Red Sox at their best. Two-time AL batting champion Nomar Garciaparra was in a hospital having surgery on his wrist rather than at shortstop and Manny Ramirez departed the premises after feeling a twinge in the hamstring that has hamstrung him all spring. Thus it was that, in two critical situations, the Orioles were pitching successfully to Darren Lewis, whose 323 RBI in 11 major league seasons aren't many more than Manny collected in his last two years with Cleveland.
Red Sox manager Jimy Williams also helped the O's by yanking Martinez after seven innings because of what he said was a high pitch count. Trouble is, Pedro had thrown just 92 pitches, which is a highly reasonable total even for early April. But then how smart can a guy be when he spells Jimmy with one "m"?
So the O's are off to an encouraging start that, if nothing else, guarantees they won't lose their first 21 games, as they did in '88. There's only one slightly discouraging note. There's another game tomorrow night, darn it.

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