Bobby Bonilla, the Orioles' new cleanup hitter and right fielder, walked back to the bench after striking out in the first inning yesterday. "I admit to you guys, I'm nervous," he said to some of his teammates in the dugout. "My knees are shaking."
All day, jitters. From the time he got off the plane from New York yesterday morning, before and during the Orioles' 7-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox last night. Bonilla went 0-for-4, and it was an ex-Oriole that stole the show.
Mike Devereaux hit two homers, overcoming three homers by the Orioles, who fell 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the AL East. Rookie Mike Bertotti earned the victory in his major-league debut; he was the one who struck out Bonilla in the first inning.
"I think maybe that I was maybe a little too pumped," Bonilla said afterward.
His adrenalin had been building from the moment Friday night that New York Mets general manager Joe McIlvaine told him he had been traded to the Orioles.
Bonilla told Orioles GM Roland Hemond on Friday night that he planned to drive from New York to Baltimore, and Hemond winced. Don't get any tickets, Hemond said. Don't get stuck in traffic. Don't get into an accident. Bonilla, hearing the fear in Hemond's voice, decided to fly, and his plane landed shortly after 10 a.m.
Everywhere he went, through the airport, at his hotel, people welcomed him, called to him. Bonilla had admitted to Orioles manager Phil Regan on Friday night that he was nervous, and all this attention fed his jitters.
He met Regan shortly after 1 p.m., shaking hands. Regan told him about the team's relatively strict dress code -- "Boy, some clothes store is really going to like me," Bonilla said -- and the manager pointed at the earring dangling from Bonilla's left lobe.
"He told me, 'The Big Guy [Peter Angelos] doesn't like that,' " Bonilla said. "I said, 'Allll right.' "
Bonilla walked around the spacious clubhouse, for which, he said, he would need a map. He stared in awe at the video equipment, saying how much he looked forward to using the tapes to hone his swing.
Bonilla set up his locker, then pulled out his equipment. One problem: He needed a pair of black shoes, and the only spikes he had were colored Mets blue. His shoe company told him that it would have his shoes delivered by Tuesday, but Bonilla needed black spikes for last night's game.
So he and Rafael Palmeiro rummaged around the clubhouse and looked for size-13 1/2 spikes. Ben McDonald had a pair of size 13 shoes, and they became temporary property of the newest Oriole.
Bonilla met with the media, saying a dozen times that he was nervous. He shook hands with his new teammates, then took batting practice for the first time, driving one ball 20 rows into the left-field stands.
About 20 minutes before the game, Bonilla stepped out of the dugout to play catch with Kevin Bass, and the crowd cheered. The fans continued to yell and shout and stand when his name was announced as part of the starting lineup by public address announcer Rex Barney, and when he was formally welcomed on the scoreboard, and by Barney.
"I was standing out in right field saying, 'I've got to do something,' " Bonilla said.
Brady Anderson singled to open the Orioles' first. After Manny Alexander hit into a forceout, Palmeiro singled, Alexander running to third, and as Barney introduced the next hitter to the Oriole Park crowd of 47,313, his words were smothered by more cheers for Bonilla.
White Sox catcher Ron Karkovice went to the mound to say something to Bertotti, perhaps that Bonilla could be antsy and swing at anything near the strike zone, which is what Bonilla did. Three pitches, one high, two low. Three swings. Three strikes.
"He was anxious," said Karkovice. "Anybody would be when you come to a team like that. He was jumpy tonight. We threw some good pitches and he swung at some bad balls."
Bonilla was cheered again as he walked back to the dugout. He grounded out to short in the third inning, then grounded out to third in the fifth inning.
The Orioles, in the meantime, built a 3-1 lead. Chicago had gone ahead 1-0 against rookie left-hander Rick Krivda in the third. In the bottom of the inning, Jeff Manto mashed his first homer since June 24, and two batters later, Alexander also homered. In the fifth, Palmeiro hit the Orioles' third bases-empty shot of the night, his 22nd homer.
But the White Sox came back. Devereaux hit his first homer of the night, and Robin Ventura walked. After a strikeout of Ray Durham, Mike Oquist, in his first appearance in eight days, relieved Krivda.
Oquist was wild, walking Karkovice (hitting .228 going into the game) and giving up a single to No. 9 hitter Craig Grebeck that tied the score at 3. A wild pitch allowed Karkovice to score the lead run.
Despite his ineffectiveness, Oquist started the seventh and walked Devereaux to lead off the inning. Third baseman Leo Gomez and pitching coach Mike Flanagan visited the mound, buying time for Arthur Rhodes to warm up. But before Regan could pull Oquist, Ventura singled to left.
Rhodes, pitching for the first time in a week, came on in the seventh. He bobbled a sacrifice bunt to load the bases, and walked Karkovice to force in a run. Rhodes pitched out of that jam without allowing any more runs, but the Orioles trailed 5-3.
Bonilla had one more shot at first-night glory in the bottom of the seventh, after Palmeiro's bloop single scored Harold Baines. Bonilla walked to the plate, tying run on third, potential winning run on first, got ahead on the count 2-0 . . . and grounded weakly to second.
Bonilla huddled with hitting coach Lee May in the videotape room after the game.
"Mr. May said, 'Well, you swung just a little bit too hard tonight,' " Bonilla said. "Over-swinging, way too aggressive, trying to impress."
Somebody asked him how he liked hitting in Camden Yards.
"I'll let you know," Bonilla said, "once I get the ball out of the infield."
HITS AND MISSES
On the field: Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken argued with plate umpire Rick Reed after taking a called strike three to begin the sixth inning. Leo Gomez took a called strike to end the inning, and as Ripken was taking Gomez's glove to him, he continued to argue with Reed, who followed him out onto the field. Orioles manager Phil Regan came out of the dugout to get between Ripken and Reed and prevent his shortstop from being ejected.
In the dugout: With a runner at second, one out and one run already in, Orioles left-hander Rick Krivda intentionally walked White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas, who leads the majors in walks. Krivda pitched out of the inning, getting Lyle Mouton on a pop to second and Mike Devereaux on a fly to left.
In the clubhouse: "It's nice to be in a pennant race. I just didn't think Baltimore would give them [the Mets] what they wanted." -- Bobby Bonilla, before last night's game.
First inning: Struck out swinging on three pitches with runners first and third base.
Third inning: Grounded out to shortstop.
Fifth inning: Grounded out to third.
Seventh inning: Grounded out to second, ending the inning with the tying run on third base and go-ahead run on first.
Opponent: Chicago White Sox
Site: Orioles Park at Camden Yards
Time: 1:35 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: White Sox's Jason Bere (5-8, 5.42) vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson (6-7, 5.40)
$ Tickets: 220 remain