It's been said that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression, but new Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro is working on a string of them.
He hit a home run in his first intrasquad game this spring. He hit a home run in his first exhibition game a couple days later. And yesterday he nearly put a dent in Eutaw Street in his first game as an Oriole at Camden Yards.
The Orioles pounded the Philadelphia Phillies, 9-3, in their final dress rehearsal for what looks like a promising 1994 season, and Palmeiro was not the only newcomer to put his best foot forward for the near-record crowd of 46,950.
Third baseman Chris Sabo homered into the left-field stands in the fifth inning and relievers Mark Eichhorn and Lee Smith each ** pitched a scoreless inning as the Orioles closed their exhibition season with a 15-15-1 record.
Palmeiro nearly became the first Orioles player to hit a ball over the right-field flag court. There are baseball-shaped plaques embedded in Eutaw Street to commemorate the three longest (( home runs hit to right field, but they all belong to opponents -- Mickey Tettleton, Lee Stevens and Kevin Reimer. Palmeiro was just happy to give the expectant crowd something to cheer about.
"I wasn't expecting to do that, but it's nice," he said. "Now, I'll feel more comfortable going into Monday. I hope they don't expect me to do that every day, but hopefully I'll do it enough this year to help this team win."
If it was a thrill for Sabo, he didn't let on. He was playing in Camden Yards for the first time, so he seemed more interested in getting acclimated to his new environment, especially at third base.
"I was more concerned with playing in the stadium and getting a feel for the ball," he said. "I didn't really care about the results. I'll get excited if I hit one on Monday."
While Sabo was making a good first impression on the crowd, Oriole Park and its denizens were making a good first impression on him. He has played before big crowds before, but he is looking forward to playing in front of sellout crowds on an almost daily basis.
"That's going to be nice," he said. "It was loud and exciting. But I was more interested in getting a feel for the whole new stadium thing."
"It's a nice park," Sabo said. "It seems like the ball carries well, and I'm a fly ball hitter. Maybe I can pull the ball enough to take advantage of that. The infield is slow, which should help me once I get used to it."
His two-run homer gave the Orioles a four-run lead in the fifth inning. Palmeiro's home run came during a four-run sixth that broke the game open.
The veteran first baseman finished the spring batting .239 with four home runs and 11 RBIs. His exhibition numbers were not outstanding, but he showed what he could do a year ago, when he hit 37 homers and drove in 105 runs for the Texas Rangers.
Eichhorn pitched the sixth, giving up one hit and striking out two in his 11th appearance of the spring. Smith pitched the ninth and gave up one hit before striking out Tom Quinlan to end the game. He found an upbeat way to end a rocky spring.
"It was a nice way for them all to break in," said general manager Roland Hemond, who was the major architect of the club's off-season reconstruction. "The fans were enthused about the players we acquired. To have them do what they did is an indication of what they can do for this club."
There were some other positive developments during the course of the day. Left-hander Sid Fernandez threw batting practice for 14 minutes and reported no discomfort. Reliever Alan Mills also threw in the bullpen and reported no recurrence of the back soreness that has bothered him the past week.
Left-hander Jamie Moyer made his final start of the spring a decent one, giving up a run on seven hits over five innings. He struck out four and walked one in preparation for his first &L; regular-season start on Thursday.
Moyer made six exhibition starts and finished the spring with a 2-2 record and a 3.72 ERA. He was the winningest pitcher in the Orioles' organization last year (six minor-league victories and 12 major-league victories) and hopes to be even more productive this season.
He may benefit from a performance under simulated regular-season conditions yesterday. The crowd was the second largest ever to see a game at Camden Yards -- behind last year's All-Star Game -- and the fans were in midseason form.
"It didn't feel like a spring training game today, to the point where I didn't use my last player," manager Johnny Oates said. "With that kind of crowd out there, I didn't want to be caught short at the end. I guess that is as close as you can get to the regular season and still be spring training."
OPENING DAY FACTS
Gates open: Noon tomorrow
Batting practice: Orioles, 12:45 p.m.; Kansas City, 1:45 p.m.
Pre-game ceremonies: 2:38 p.m.
First pitch: 3:05 p.m.
National anthem: Michael Harrison, general director of Baltimore Opera Company
Tickets: Sold out
Promotion: 40th anniversary fan bandanna, courtesy of The Baltimore Sun