ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The positive reviews keep coming in. The Orioles put their projected Opening Day lineup on the field yesterday and -- to hear former Orioles pitcher Dennis Martinez tell it -- put the rest of the American League East on notice.
"That lineup is not easy to pitch against," said Martinez, who was the first opposing pitcher to see the new-look Orioles batting order in its entirety. "If their pitching holds up, they are going to beat Toronto. Offensively, there is no reason why not."
Martinez survived his three innings, giving up just one earned run on four hits to a starting lineup that included designated hitter Harold Baines for the first time this spring, but several Cleveland relievers found out the hard way that the Orioles' offense has been significantly upgraded.
The Orioles scored two runs in the third inning and three in the fourth, then staged a five-run comeback in the bottom of the ninth to score a 10-9 victory at Al Lang Stadium. The only regular still around for the late-inning rally was Mark McLemore, but Martinez already had formed his opinion by then.
"That Toronto ballclub is very solid, too," he said, "but I think this team can overcome that. [Rafael] Palmeiro and [Chris] Sabo, there are two guys you don't want to face any time. They send up their six, seven and eight guys up there, and they can take you out of the ballpark."
The pitching staff also has been upgraded, but Martinez expressed the same reservations articulated by Blue Jays veteran Dave Stewart last week. Newly acquired left-hander Sid Fernandez should help, but he'll have to take the ball regularly to do so.
"I believe he will help if he's healthy," Martinez said. "If he's not healthy, that could be a problem, but he's a good one. It always comes back to the pitching. [Lee] Smith can help them, too."
Martinez left the obvious unsaid. There was one other pitcher who almost certainly could have helped, but he ended up signing with the Indians when off-season talks with the Orioles never got serious.
"There was a time when I thought there might be a chance that I might be back in the Baltimore area," Martinez said. "I was looking forward to that, but sometimes, you don't get what you want. Cleveland made an offer, and I think I signed with the right team. But I'm still looking forward to getting the chance to pitch for the Baltimore fans. It is a great baseball city."
It was his home for 11 seasons, including a six-year span in which he won 14 or more games five times, but an alcohol problem contributed to a statistical decline that led to his departure in 1986. He straightened out his life and re-established himself as a premier pitcher with the Montreal Expos, setting himself up to come full circle and return triumphantly to Baltimore. It just didn't come together.
The Orioles signed a raft of free agents, but negotiations with Martinez never really got past the general stage, even though he made it clearthat he would like to return.
"You can only sign so many players," said Orioles general manager Roland Hemond.
There also was talk that the Orioles might give first baseman Eddie Murray another turn, but Martinez and Murray signed with the Indians on the same day and helped transform a very promising club into a legitimate contender in the new American League Central division.
"I couldn't wait forever," Martinez said.
He took the mound yesterday and held the Orioles to one hit over thefirst two innings, but gave up a couple of one-out hits to Brady Anderson and Mike Devereaux and fell victim to an errant double-play relay by Paul Sorrento. Baines, who has been taking it easy on his sore knees the first few weeks of training camp, brought home the second run of the inning with a sacrifice fly.
The Orioles scored three times in the fourth on five straight no-out singles off reliever Bill Wertz, displaying the kind of offensive attack that manager Johnny Oates hopes will keep the pressure off the pitching staff.
"This lineup is certainly capable of doing that," Oates said. "We have a chance to score a lot of runs."
They proved that again in the ninth, scoring four times with two outs to complete the five-run comeback. Damon Buford opened the inning with a double and ended it with a game-winning RBI single. McLemore contributed a two-run single and rookie outfielder Mark Smith had a run-scoring hit as the Orioles improved their Grapefruit League record to 2-4.
Opponent: New York Yankees
Site: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.