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Brian Roberts' return to the major leagues on Tuesday after a concussion and its aftereffects kept him out for 13 months was a special night in Baltimore.

Special for the fans, who gave him a standing ovation before his first at-bat.

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Special for Roberts, who got emotional more than once at the realization of a goal he wasn't sure he'd be able to achieve.

Special for manager Buck Showalter, who knew what Roberts went through to get back.

But, sentimentality aside, it also enhances the Orioles' chances to remain competitive.

Better than any possible trading deadline deal, the Orioles just added one of the top leadoff hitters and second basemen in the game without giving up a thing. Getting three hits in his return was a reminder of what Roberts can do for the team.

Presumptive All-Star outfielder Adam Jones said the team dearly missed its "sparkplug."

"He's on base 38 percent of the time; I've looked up the numbers," said the cleanup-hitting Jones, who had two singles, a double and a home run in Roberts' return on Tuesday. "My first two years, he was on base, and I was hitting right behind him. Now I'm hitting a little bit farther behind him, but I'm still behind him.

"He's just an exciting player. One of the best leadoff hitters in the game. He's had a long recovery back. I know he wants to get back in the 'top leadoff hitter in the game' role."

A two-time All-Star, Roberts is a career .282 hitter who averaged 46 doubles and 35 stolen bases from 2004-2009, when he was healthy. His limited availability the past two years severely impacted the team.

The Orioles were 30-29 with Roberts in the lineup in 2010. They were 36-67 without him.

A year ago, they were a respectable 19-20 when Roberts played his final game of 2011, on May 16. They went 50-73 the rest of the way.

Roberts' return is akin to getting a closer back and thus allowing the rest of the relievers to get back to the role that suits them best.

So Robert Andino can fill the super-utility spot he was born for, playing some third base, shortstop, second base, outfield, and pinch running. So Andino (and Endy Chavez and Nolan Reimold, when healthy) can forget about ever batting first again. So Showalter can have some flexibility with his lineup and his late-inning maneuvering.

Of course, the fear of another, potentially career-ending concussion will always be there for fans - and perhaps in the back of the minds of Roberts and Showalter, too.

But when Roberts was diving headfirst back to the base on pickoff attempts, sliding in hard to second base trying to break up double plays, and roping line singles, he looked anything but tentative.

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"That's what I was hoping for. I was hoping I was going to go through stuff like that and come out of it as good as I did," said Roberts.

Showalter said he plans to pencil Roberts' name into the lineup for the rest of the season.

The inspiration the team received from Roberts on Tuesday will wear off, but his everyday presence and productivity will be most welcome as the team attempts to contend for the postseason in 2012 and beyond.

"As much as I would have liked to have played the last 175 games or 190 games," Roberts said, "I'm hoping the next 190 will be better than I ever imagined."

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