The second half of the Baltimore Orioles' season began much as the first half did, with a brief pep talk from Manager Ray Miller and a convincing victory keyed by slugger Albert Belle. But two things kept tonight's 8-2 win over the Montreal Expos from matching the positive vibes of Opening Day: the reality of the Orioles' record and a worrisome injury to Cal Ripken.
Ripken was hit on the right wrist by a fastball thrown by Mike Thurman in the bottom of the second inning and left the game in the top of the third. X-rays taken at the stadium were inconclusive. Ripken will have the wrist X-rayed again and examined by a hand specialist Friday.
The Orioles fear Ripken's wrist is fractured, a team source said, which likely would land baseball's Iron Man on the disabled list for the second time this season. Ripken, who on Tuesday played in his 17th all-star game, is in the midst of his best offensive season this decade.
"He didn't think it was too bad," Miller said of Ripken, who was unavailable after the game. "He's day-to-day. He's a tough war horse. He'll heal quickly."
Belle, known as a second-half player, launched his second-half campaign with three hits, including his 19th homer, and four RBI -- a good start toward equaling his 1998 second-half production, when he hit .387 with 31 homers and 86 RBI in the second half as a member of the White Sox.
"Say what you will about Albert," Miller said. "But at the end of the year, he's going to be a 100-plus [RBI] guy."
Center fielder Brady Anderson also had three hits tonight -- his third straight three-hit game -- and stole three bases, scored two runs and made a nice running catch at the wall in left-center in the eighth.
Sidney Ponson (8-6), who emerged as the Orioles' number two starter during an impressive first half, labored through much of the game. But he coaxed four double-play grounders in the first six innings and settled down to pitch his fourth complete game, which leads the American League.
Miller was unhappy with Ponson's body language in the early innings, saying it laid bare Ponson's frustration. "You should never let the other team know you're struggling," Miller said. "When you show frustration with yourself, to me it's a weakness. . . . But he's only 22. He has a lot of learning to do."
The Orioles began the second half 16 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East and 12 1/2 games behind Boston in the wild-card race. That's a better position than a year ago, when they were 26 1/2 games out of first and 15 1/2 games behind in the wild-card race at the break. Last year, the Orioles won their first nine games of the second half, and 30 of their first 38, briefly pulling into contention.
Before tonight's game, Miller met with his players to remind them of the 1998 second-half surge. He said he made it clear that the organization hasn't given up on 1999, despite the team's poor and often tumultuous first half and the front office's apparent willingness to trade established players.
"The gist [of the meeting] was that I haven't given up yet, and most of the written media and the TV and everything else has," Miller said before the game. "We're 12 games behind [Boston] in the loss column, and there's 11 weeks to go. That's about one game a week."
While the Orioles are actively seeking to trade several players, including catcher Lenny Webster and pitchers Juan Guzman and Arthur Rhodes, General Manager Frank Wren said rebuilding is not the right word.
"We're not going to tear the team completely down," Wren said. "We're going to make deals that, if we make them, are going to help us both in the future and immediately. We're not in a position where we have to make trades. I think we can improve our club."
Said Miller: "It's not like we're going to trade our people for a bunch of minor league players. If it's a trade that can help us now and help us in the future, we'll consider making it."
Orioles Notes: Wren said he is "within a day" of resolving the Webster situation, presumably by trading the veteran. Wren met with Webster for about 10 minutes before tonight's game to discuss the situation. . . .
Anderson, whose name has cropped up in trade rumors, repeated his intention to remain with the Orioles. Anderson has a blanket no-trade clause. "It was a huge part of my contract to get that no-trade clause," he said. "I didn't want to have [trade talks] as a distraction, and when you're in control it can't be a distraction. In my heart, whether we're doing great or struggling, I want to be an Oriole. I won't look to get out just because we're struggling."
But Anderson stopped short of saying he would never consider waiving his no-trade clause. "I would listen just out of curiosity," he said. . . .
Matt Riley, the Orioles' top pitching prospect, has decided not to play in the upcoming Pan American Games, preferring to remain with Class AA Bowie. The decision was Riley's, according to Wren. "He felt he was making progress every time out there, and he didn't want to disrupt that," Wren said. . . .
Delino DeShields began a rehabilitation assignment tonight at Class A Delmarva. He will play three games there "to see if he's 100 percent," Miller said. A decision will be made on him by Saturday or Sunday.
If Ripken were to require a stay on the 15-day disabled list, it would allow the Orioles to keep impressive rookie second baseman Jerry Hairston when DeShields comes off the disabled list at the end of this week.
CAPTION: Cal Ripken examines his bruised wrist at third base. He left the game, and will be examined today. A fracture is feared.
CAPTION: Mike Bordick, right, comes in against Expos catcher Michael Barrett to score for O's, who got a 4-RBI performance from second-half stalwart Albert Belle.