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Sosa Debuts To Ovation, Responds With 2 Hits

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 5, 2005; Page D08

BALTIMORE, April 4 -- Sammy Sosa was welcomed by warm applause from the crowd at Oriole Park at Camden Yards when he sprinted to the outfield during introductions, then again when he stepped to the plate for the first time as a Baltimore Oriole.

Four pitches into his first at-bat in Monday's season opener, the newly acquired right fielder got his first standing ovation.

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"The fans were incredible, very, very incredible," Sosa said. "I felt comfortable. I feel like this is my home. Like I have been here before."

He certainly appeared at home inside the Orioles' clubhouse, where he turned up the salsa music on his personal DVD player, and began singing and dancing.

"I can do this, right?" Sosa asked following the Orioles' 4-0 Opening Day victory over the Oakland Athletics. "It was a very good day."

Sosa, who was acquired from the Chicago Cubs in a February trade, was the only Oriole to record more than one hit, completing the game with a pair of singles in four at-bats. But it wasn't what he did at the plate that impressed his teammates and manager.

"He's the man right now," starting pitcher Rodrigo Lopez said of Sosa. "He got the crowd excited. He gave the team a lot of energy. All of the people were going nuts for Sammy. You could just feel the energy from the fans."

Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli said, "I think we had goose bumps when he came to the plate with the standing ovation."

Sosa acknowledged the ovation in the first by smacking a fastball into left field for a single. He singled again to left field in the third inning, and reached base on a throwing error by Oakland's backup shortstop Marco Scutaro in the eighth.

Sosa's defensive performance drew mixed reviews. In the sixth inning, Sosa charged back to catch a ball hit over his head by Scutaro, but the ball caromed off the wall and bounced past him. Had Sosa played the ball off the wall, it appeared he might have held Scutaro to a single instead of a double. (Sosa later admitted he still has to get used to the quirks of the right field wall.) He made amends one batter later with a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch on a long fly ball off the bat of Nick Swisher.

Asked if he was pleased by his performance, an effervescent Sosa responded with a question of his own: "Were you?" The reporter answered, "Yes, I was impressed."

Sosa smiled broadly and responded: "Good. I'm happy."

While Sosa held court with the media, the television above his locker was tuned into the game between Chicago and Arizona. Asked if it was weird watching his former team of 16 seasons from a different vantage point, he said flatly, "That page is closed."

The first chapter of his Orioles career, however, has just begun. And it started off with a bang.

"He brings that extra excitement you need," first baseman Rafael Palmeiro said. "The fans are going to love him."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company