Orioles' Newcomers Start Quickly

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 4, 2006

BALTIMORE, April 3 -- Kevin Millar was understandably excited about the Baltimore Orioles' season-opening 9-6 victory over Tampa Bay on Monday, one in which he and fellow newcomers Ramon Hernandez and Jeff Conine rattled the Devil Rays with six hits and four RBI.

Well, perhaps Millar was just a little too excited.

"We can shock the world this year," he proclaimed.

Game 2 of this 162-game campaign arrives Wednesday.

The Boston Red Sox lost interest during the offseason in the amusing Millar, 34, and his signing by the Orioles was met with a tepid response around the majors. But he ingratiated himself to the sellout crowd of 46,986 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Opening Day with two hits in four at-bats, two runs scored, one batted in, and some solid defensive work at first base.

The biggest surprise, however, came from Hernandez, the club's new catcher who, from the bottom of the batting order, contributed three singles in as many at-bats and two RBI.

Conine, in his second stint with Baltimore, smashed the last of the team's four home runs, a solo drive leading off the seventh that completed the scoring.

"They are good players, they really are," Manager Sam Perlozzo said of the new arrivals. "I know Ramon was hitting ninth and if I was a betting man, I would tell you he'd probably be moving further to the top than the bottom as it goes along."

The Venezuelan-born Hernandez, 29, was signed to a four-year contract in December after spending the first seven years of his major league career with Oakland and then San Diego. The Orioles turned to him for his defense and to handle young pitchers; in four of the previous five seasons, his staffs finished in the top five in the majors in ERA.

But it's clear Baltimore might be able to count on his offense -- a career .262 hitter, he hit .290 with 12 homers and 58 RBI in just 99 games last year with the Padres.

On Monday, his two-out single to left in the second inning tied the score at 2 and his two-out single to left-center in the fifth drove in the fourth run of the team's big fifth inning and extended the lead to 7-4. In the seventh, he singled to center.

"I was worried about spring training," said Hernandez, who hit .167 in the spring. "I was working on my hitting, and maybe I got a little lucky today. . . . The whole lineup hit the ball well and hopefully we can continue to hit like this. Nobody believes in Baltimore; everybody is talking about Boston and the Yankees, but I think we're going to be pretty good this year."

Said Millar: "It's a tough offense, one through nine. When you've got Ramon Hernandez hitting in the nine hole, everyone can do damage."

Millar did damage in his first at-bat as an Oriole, doubling down the left field line to trigger a two-run second inning.

He also played a role in the four-run fifth inning, which Luis Matos and Melvin Mora opened with back-to-back homers. Miguel Tejada then singled and moved to second on a groundout, and Millar singled to left to score Tejada. When Carl Crawford bobbled the ball, Millar scrambled to second. He then scored on Hernandez's hit.

"Everybody was a little worried at first about the guys not swinging the bat and this and that, but there's a different light switch on Opening Day and this group showed it can play," Millar said.

"Opening Day is a very special day. I don't care how old you are or how many years you've got in the big leagues, everybody gets excited. The last few weeks of spring training start dragging on and you get excited for this day, and we had a good day."

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