BALTIMORE, April 4 -- There was a sprint to the outfield from the newest superstar, with a standing ovation that followed, and nine scoreless innings from an oft-criticized pitching staff in a game that in itself was not remarkable but provided hope that the season could be.
The Baltimore Orioles, with the largest Opening Day crowd in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards watching (48,271), beat the Oakland Athletics, 4-0, to start a season that at times appeared bleak during the offseason but now has begun happily.
Miguel Tejada snares a drive off the bat of Oakland outfielder Nick Swisher in Baltimore's 4-0 victory Monday.
(Joel Richardson - The Washington Post)
The Orioles had been concerned about the impact of the Washington Nationals. They had worried when their imported superstar, Sammy Sosa, was called to a congressional hearing to talk about steroids.
It had been a troubling offseason, but Opening Day brought signs that this season perhaps will be a better year than the previous seven, each of which the Orioles finished with a losing record. The Orioles showed in one day that perhaps they are better than people imagine.
Starter Rodrigo Lopez threw six scoreless innings, allowing seven hits. No Oakland player reached third base against Lopez.
Sosa made his debut in a way that would befit a superstar: with two hits in addition to his well-received sprint to right field.
"I was waiting for that during all of spring training," center fielder Luis Matos said. "It was fun watching. Everybody was expecting that. I had some fun when I saw that. You have a Hall of Famer in right field beside you. You're going to learn a lot from him."
As for the pitching staff, "I think our rotation is overdue," Lopez said. "We already proved last year during the second half how effective we can be. I think all those people [talking] about our starting rotation might be having some second thoughts. We had a really good spring training. And the young people are ready. We are going to surprise many people that doubted us."
Prior to the game Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli summoned Lopez into his office and provided a moment that seemed unthinkable last year when the pitcher angrily began the year in the bullpen. Mazzilli surrendered the jersey No. 13 to Lopez, who had used the number during his entire professional career. Last season, because of the manager's arrival, Lopez wore No. 19. His relationship with Mazzilli was tepid at best.
"I was just surprised," Lopez said. "I went into his office and he told me turn around and open the cabinet. It was a jersey. I was in shock. I turned to him and said: 'This is awesome. This number means a lot to me.' What he did means a lot."
Mazzilli now wears No. 12.
"This is the first number I had in the big leagues," Mazzilli said. "I wanted to get it back."
Matos provided the first two runs of the game with a two-run homer against Oakland's Barry Zito, a pitcher who had dominated the Orioles in previous appearances at Camden Yards. Zito entered the game with a 0.63 ERA at Camden Yards in 28 2/3 innings.
"We got a great lineup from 1 to 9," Matos said. "We don't have any holes in the lineup. We're just trying to get on base for when one of the big guys come up."
Last season was distressing for Matos, who slumped badly at the beginning and then broke a bone in his right shin in July, ending his season. He hit just .133 against left-handed pitchers last year, but his first hit of the 2005 season was a home run on a hanging curveball from the left-handed Zito. During the spring, Matos had been the team's best offensive player. One day during the spring, Mazzilli thanked Matos for his effort.
"We sat down and had a little chat," Mazzilli said. "I told him how proud I was of him after being hurt last year and coming back in spring training. I want Luis to play center field like he can. I expect big things out of him."
Sosa did not carry the offense, but on a team with another future Hall of Famer in Rafael Palmeiro and two Silver Slugger Award winners in Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada, he won't be asked to do so.
"It was a good day," Sosa said. "It's great, all the fan support we got. They know we are going to have a great team this season and have a lot of fun here."