BALTIMORE - When it comes to first impressions, it'd be difficult to find many better than Jason Hammel's Baltimore Orioles debut Sunday.
The 6-foot-6 right-hander acquired in the Jeremy Guthrie trade flirted with becoming the first Oriole to throw a no-hitter at Camden Yards, baffling the Minnesota Twins over eight innings for a 3-1 win before 14,738, completing a season-opening sweep.
Although Hammel (1-0) came up short in the no-hit department, allowing doubles to the first two batters of the eighth, it was the kind of performance that drew the home fans out of their seats - initially after Justin Morneau recorded hit No. 1 on the first pitch of the eighth and then an even more raucous ovation after the starter got out of the inning with the Orioles (3-0) still leading.
Hammel said it was the best game he had ever pitched, and was glad to do it in his first start with his new club.
"I'll take this any day of the week," he said. "It was a pleasure to do that for the fans, the first time they've seen me. They sure knew what was going on and they backed me up pretty good."
Hammel finished with one earned run on two hits and three walks while striking out five, but above all, he benefited from the ground ball.
Using a sinker he has reincorporated since coming back East from the Colorado Rockies, he forced the Twins (0-3) to roll over for 14 grounders, including two double-play balls, to record 16 of his 24 outs that way.
With that added to Hammel's arsenal, pitching coach Rick Adair sees a different pitcher than he did at the beginning of the spring.
"I really think so, because guys are getting in shape, you really don't know what they're about," Adair said. "Watched video of him when we made the trade, but he's doing some things that are really good and he's in a good place right now. It's fun to watch."
Hammel was in complete command for the first seven innings, holding Minnesota without a hit and to just two baserunners on a pair of walks. He faced the minimum 21 batters through seven, as he cancelled out both walks via the double play.
Before the eighth, Hammel allowed just two balls out of the infield and had manager Buck Showalter believing he could become the first pitcher to throw a no-no in his debut with a new team since Boston's Hideo Nomo against Baltimore in 2001.
"That was fun. I thought he had a shot at it," Showalter said. "He was carrying that type of stuff. He had all four pitches going."
But in the eighth, Hammel ran into his first bout of trouble.
Morneau clobbered the first pitch of the inning off the right-field scoreboard, not too far out of Nick Markakis' reach.
"It wasn't actually that bad of a pitch," Hammel said. "Morneau is a great hitter. It was a changeup that was up just a little bit."
Morneau then scored on Josh Willingham's double to left, which cut a 3-0 Baltimore lead to two.
Adair visited the mound to settle Hammel down, and the tall righty followed by fanning Ryan Doumit for the first out. He then walked Sean Burroughs to put runners on first and second, but struck out Luke Hughes and induced a flyball out of pinch-hitter Chris Parmelee to end the threat. That sequence impressed both Showalter and catcher Matt Wieters most.
"That's a tough thing to do, give up back-to-back doubles and come back there and then try and shift your energy from trying to throw a no-hitter to try and win a ballgame," Wieters said. "He did a great job of doing that there, especially with a guy on second and nobody out."
Jim Johnson then earned his second save with a perfect ninth.
The Orioles provided Hammel with all the support he'd need on J.J. Hardy's first homer of the season, a solo shot in the first, and Wilson Betemit's two-run double in the sixth.
Hammel made that stand up with Baltimore's third straight start of at least seven innings. It marks the first time the Orioles have done that to open a season since 2001, and Hammel has combined with Jake Arrieta and Tommy Hunter to give the rotation a 0.41 ERA (one run in 22 innings) through three games.
"That's how we're going to have to win," Wieters said. "Starting pitching is what's going to win in this division and if we keep getting starts like this, we have a good chance."
Hammel said he didn't start thinking about the possibility of coming up with Baltimore's first complete-game no-hitter since Jim Palmer's in 1969 until he got through the sixth.
But he wasn't upset to have lost it in the eighth.
"There's no disappointment there. It's one crack at it," Hammel said. "I feel like I'm going to be around the game for [a long time]. I'm sure I'll have more chances at it."