By Jack Gibbons
10:12 PM EDT, March 31, 2014
Steve Lombardozzi didn't get the ovation of "Crush" or "Cruz," but he was made to feel welcome on the orange carpet during player introductions at Monday's Opening Day game between the Orioles and Boston Red Sox. It was a day when winter finally yielded to spring, and the bluest of skies hung above Camden Yards.
It's the baseball park a younger Lombardozzi attended with his family while growing up in Howard County, and where he played last season when he was a member of the Washington Nationals. On Monday, it was the Atholton grad's home park, when the Orioles began their 2014 season with a tense 2-1 victory over the Red Sox.
For Lombardozzi, it was a victory he watched from the Orioles' dugout after getting a warm ovation from the fans, shaking hands with manager Buck Showalter and standing next to injured third baseman Manny Machado, who also had to watch Monday's opener because he's still recovering from off-season knee surgery.
Showalter elected to start Ryan Flaherty at third and rookie Jonathan Schoop at second, keeping the versatile and switch-hitting Lombardozzi on the bench in case he needed to make a late-game substitution. But Nelson Cruz's seventh-inning home run broke a 1-1 tie, and the Orioles' bullpen preserved the win with four scoreless innings of relief pitching.
Tommy Hunter earned his first save by pitching a scoreless ninth.
It was a lift for those who consider Opening Day the real beginning of spring, but it was also emotional for the Oriole family, who lost Ellicott City resident and Public Relations Director Monica Pence Barlow to lung cancer in February. Her husband, Ben, and her parents watched the game from Showalter's suite, and the manager gave her mom a heartfelt hug afterward.
The Orioles put a plaque in Barlow's honor in the press box and will keep her chair open along press row. Although it's an unwritten rule that there's no cheering in the press box, there was cheering, and tears, on Monday when she was honored.