There were some anxious moments, but the meltdown that everyone predicted whenever a starter not named Jeremy Guthrie or Koji Uehara takes the mound for the Orioles never occurred Friday night.
Then again, Mark Hendrickson was pitching in April, so that much probably should have been expected.
Facing his former team in his Orioles debut, Hendrickson walked off the mound in the sixth inning to a standing ovation from the announced crowd of 22,866 at Camden Yards. At the time, the Orioles held a comfortable four-run lead, which was whittled to a run before George Sherrill closed the deal in a 5-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
The win ended a 12-game losing streak to the defending American League champions and, at least for one day, validated the Orioles' decision to include Hendrickson in the Opening Day rotation. One of the factors in that decision was Hendrickson's success in April. He improved to 7-1 with a 1.71 ERA in 13 April games since the start of 2006. His ERA in April during that span is the lowest among active major league pitchers.
"I hope he pitches like it's April every time he's out there," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said.
Hendrickson escaped a bases-loaded jam in the second inning and allowed just one run in 5 1/3 innings, scattering six hits and two walks and leaving with the Orioles leading 5-1.
Trembley, cognizant of the innings already logged by his bullpen, tried to push the big left-hander through another inning, but when he arrived at the mound in the sixth after Carlos Pena's one-out single, Hendrickson said, according to Trembley, "Dave, I gave it everything I had."
"It's a tough battle every time you play them," said Hendrickson, who pitched with Tampa Bay from 2004 to 2006 and was responsible for manager Joe Maddon's first victory. "They're going to claw and scrap, as they proved tonight. It was undecided until the final out."
Danys Baez, another former Tampa Bay player, pitched 1 2/3 perfect innings, striking out four of the five batters he faced. But that's when things got interesting. Jim Johnson allowed a two-run home run to Evan Longoria, the third baseman's second homer of the game and fourth of the season. Johnson didn't allow a homer in 68 2/3 innings last year.
Dioner Navarro cut the Orioles' lead to one run with a solo shot off Sherrill in the ninth. However, the Orioles' All-Star closer overpowered Akinori Iwamura with a 3-2 fastball to pick up his second save and give his team a rare victory over Tampa Bay. The Orioles went 3-15 against the Rays last season.
"I didn't know the numbers; that's something we try to stay away from," Sherrill said. "It was a good win, one that we needed. You always want to win the first one and try and win a series from there."
The Orioles' top of the order accounted for pretty much all the damage against Rays right-hander Andy Sonnanstine. Their top five hitters went a combined 8-for-19 with five runs and four RBIs. Melvin Mora went 2-for-4 with three RBIs. Brian Roberts and Adam Jones also had two hits each, but Jones acknowledged that it was Hendrickson who set the tone.
"He went out and threw his game," the center fielder said. "If he can go out and do that every fifth day, I don't know why we'll be in any trouble."
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