ST. PETERSBURG, April 12 -- He had thought the question to be so silly he did not even want to acknowledge it with an answer. The home runs will come, he said often to reporters who wondered when the first would arrive. There was no need to worry. No reason for concern. Only a few games had passed, not enough time to call it a slump or to worry if he was headed toward another year of downsized statistics.
Sammy Sosa's first attempt at a home run in Tuesday's 7-6 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Tropicana Field, a fading drive in the first inning off pitcher Scott Kazmir, had sailed near the right field line and appeared to hit the yellow foul pole just inches above the outfield wall. Umpire Paul Emmel ruled the ball foul. Replays were inconclusive, though it appeared Sosa had hit his first home run as an Oriole. It was tantalizingly close.
Pitcher Scott Kazmir is in the foreground as Brian Roberts heads home after his 4th homer.
(Steve Nesius -- AP)
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"What can you do?" Sosa said. "Just hang with it."
The real moment came in the third, when Sosa launched Kazmir's hanging slider deep into the left field stands for his 575th career home run. The ball was retrieved by a Dominican man, who relinquished the souvenir without much prodding, in exchange for a handshake and a few autographs from Sosa, his countryman.
"It's only seven games," Sosa said. "A lot of people asking so many questions. It's all right, they always want to ask those questions. Sometimes it's going to take a couple games. It doesn't mean you're finished. . . . The first one was going to come."
It was Sosa's first big offensive night -- he had a triple in fifth and scored the team's fifth run two batters later -- as an Oriole. Baltimore trailed early, but charged late. A two-run eighth inning against reliever Casey Fossum was the difference.
B.J. Ryan caused some anxious moments in the ninth when he allowed a leadoff triple to Aubrey Huff off the center field wall.
"That's not the way I drew it up," Ryan said. "He just killed it. I thought it was gone."
After walking Josh Phelps, Ryan struck out two batters, then ended the game with a fly out to left field for his first save of the season.
"Looking at B.J. in his first time in a closing situation," Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli said, "he really gutted it up. He really showed me something."
No moment was bigger than Sosa's first home run and RBI as an Oriole. He paced quickly around the bases, but paused before each base. The hop was there and so was the tap on the chest and kiss to the sky. It was vintage Sosa, and who would have thought everybody would have had to wait so long?
Moments prior to the game, Mazzilli joked that perhaps he should bat Brian Roberts in the cleanup spot and put the slumping Sosa in leadoff. Roberts hit his American League-leading fourth home run in the fourth and ended the night with three RBI.
"He's the man," Sosa said of Roberts. "I don't know what he's doing, but he's raking."
Perhaps in the near future, a matchup between Daniel Cabrera and Kazmir, two of the more celebrated young pitching prospects, will capture the attention of the national media. But it is a matchup made for 2007. For now it appears both are in a starting rotation out of necessity and not maturity. Both seemingly can control only their fastball, though at times neither can do that either. Each had impressive innings. Other times each appeared to completely lose control.
For all the talk of the sad state of the Devil Rays' franchise, the Orioles have only a two-game lead in the all-time series (58-56) between the teams. Tampa Bay may be the model for mediocrity. The Orioles aren't far behind.
There are signs Baltimore has passed Tampa Bay, though. One of them was from Sosa, whom the Devil Rays can't match in terms of star power or home runs.
"I know myself," Sosa said. "I knew sooner or later it was going to be there."