- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2001

BALTIMORE So what do you do for an encore?

With Monday's season-opening 2-1 victory over Pedro Martinez and the Boston Red Sox still fresh in everyone's minds, the Baltimore Orioles return to Camden Yards tonight hoping Games 2 through 162 of the 2001 baseball season can match the excitement of Game 1.

Hard-pressed as they'll be to duplicate Monday's heroics, the Orioles will take the field a more confident bunch than they were 48 hours before, when a loss to the mighty Martinez seemed a foregone conclusion.

During the course of the heart-pounding, 11-inning victory, Baltimore's young and old players alike came to the realization that they could beat the best, preseason predictions aside.

"We really believed in each other," said second baseman Jerry Hairston, who had three hits and scored the game-winning run on Brady Anderson's 11th-inning single. "We knew we were going to win. I realize it's only one game, and there are going to be some ups and downs over the course of a season. You're not going to win every game, but you have to have that attitude."

It doesn't hurt to have outstanding pitching, aggressive baserunning and rock-solid defense either, and the Orioles had all three Monday.

The two-year, $9.5 million contract Baltimore gave free agent pitcher Pat Hentgen over the winter looked like chump change after the 32-year-old hurler gutted his way to 8 2/3 innings of one-run, four-hit ball, bettering his Cy Young Award-winning counterpart.

It was that warrior-like demeanor, as manager Mike Hargrove put it, that earned Hentgen the right to start on Opening Day despite a somewhat shaky spring training.

"I think Pat relishes competition," Hargrove said. "Sometimes that's sort of overplayed, as far as 'Give me the ball, I want the last-second shot,' that kind of stuff. But I think that Pat relishes the chance to compete."

Hargrove can only hope Hentgen's presence on the mound rubs off on the rest of Baltimore's pitchers, particularly 24-year-old right-hander Sidney Ponson, who starts tonight's game against Boston's Hideo Nomo.

On the basepaths, the Orioles made good on their promise to field a more-aggressive, base-stealing squad this season. Baltimore players swiped three bases in three tries Monday, none more important than Hairston's steal of third base in the bottom of the sixth.

With Hairston on third and one out, the Red Sox infield was forced to play in, and Mike Bordick took advantage by blooping a base hit between second baseman Chris Stynes and right fielder Trot Nixon, tying the game at 1-1.

"We didn't run [Monday] in any situation that we didn't want to run," Hargrove said. "So far, this is how we played in spring training."

Defensively, with the addition of first baseman David Segui and return of shortstop Mike Bordick, the Orioles are expected to have one of the better infields in the American League this year. Monday's performance backed that up.

Segui made a couple of tough catches on throws to first, while 40-year-old third baseman Cal Ripken put aside any talk that his once-fractured rib still plagues him by making three standout plays. Ripken twice dove to his right to stop ground balls, the second of which halted a ninth-inning threat by the Red Sox. He also snagged a pop foul while falling into the Boston dugout and nearly colliding with catcher Brook Fordyce.

"He has the best hands of anybody I've ever seen," longtime teammate Anderson said of Ripken. "Nothing he does defensively surprises me."

Monday's events left the Red Sox reeling, not only from the loss but from Manny Ramirez's aggravation of a pulled hamstring that plagued the slugger all spring. Ramirez left the game in the seventh inning after feeling a twinge in his hamstring while running to first on a single off the wall in right-center.

Ramirez, who started at designated hitter instead of right field on Opening Day, was scheduled to receive medical treatment during Boston's workout yesterday at Camden Yards. Manager Jimy Williams said he didn't expect the injury to be serious enough to warrant the recent free agent signee being placed on the disabled list.

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