Ivanon Coffie's first major-league start yesterday couldn't have gone much better, if you don't count his name being misspelled on the scoreboard.
Replacing Jeff Conine at third base, Coffie went 1-for-3 with an RBI, a walk and a run scored in the Orioles' 9-5 win over the Florida Marlins.
The walk came in the third inning, when he was greeted by a loud ovation upon being introduced. While his name was presented on the scoreboard as Evanon, Coffie walked on five pitches, advanced on another walk and a wild pitch, and trotted home on Delino DeShields' three-run homer.
After striking out to end the fourth, Coffie slapped a run-scoring single into center field in the sixth, just past diving shortstop Alex Gonzalez, to give the Orioles a 6-4 lead. In keeping with tradition, the ball was tossed into the dugout for him to keep.
"When the ball left the bat, I was like, 'Get through, get through.' That's the first thing you're looking for, a base hit to get you relaxed," he said.
"Of all the people that I've talked to about Ivanon, they've all commented that they think his one major plus is his bat. He swings the bat well, and he showed that," said manager Mike Hargrove.
Coffie's day included one mistake on the base paths. He strayed too far when Mike Bordick lined out to right in the sixth inning and was doubled off first by Mark Kotsay, who picked off various Orioles as if taking aim in a shooting gallery.
"I thought there were two outs and took off. Those things happen. What I want is not to make those mistakes again," he said.
Coffie didn't have much to do in the field. His only assist came in the sixth inning, when he fielded a bouncer to his left and threw out Gonzalez.
Coffie was used as a pinch-runner on Saturday, ending what had been a taxing day. After missing his connecting flight from Philadelphia, Coffie took a cab to the ballpark rather than rent a car because he doesn't have a driver's license. His fare came to $260, including tip.
"I didn't care. I had to be here early for batting practice," he said.
Coffie was told later that afternoon that he would be starting yesterday.
"I wanted to make him really nervous," Hargrove quipped.
"Really, I think it's easier for anyone to play when they have a chance to get ready for it, so I told him [Saturday] night that he'd be playing. He was OK with it."
The early warning had the desired effect. "I was prepared," Coffie said.
And much calmer than you'd expect, especially considering he started at a position normally occupied by Cal Ripken.
"You've just got to go out there and do the job," he said. "I played with people like this in spring training, so it's nothing big to me. It's fun for me."
It won't be a regular occurrence. Conine will get most of the starts while Ripken remains on the disabled list, but Hargrove wants to give Coffie some at-bats.
"We brought him here to play. He's not going to play every day, obviously, but we want to see what he can do," Hargrove said.
"He's a young player who swings the bat well. That's a major plus right now. From the little bit I saw of him in spring training, he knows how to play the game. And he didn't seem to be intimidated at all. We'll see what we've got."
Back in action
No stranger to inactivity this season, reliever Chuck McElroy had been dormant again until facing two batters in the sixth inning. He hadn't pitched since July 6 in New York, rivaling a stretch earlier this year when he sat for 13 days.
For McElroy, combating the potentially negative effects of so much down time is a simple case of mind over matter.
"You just have to keep mentally prepared," he said. "If you get caught up in a lot of stuff, you hurt yourself. My thing is keeping myself focused and ready and keep doing the things I've always been doing.
"That's what this whole game is about, being mentally tough. The things that you go through, you know you're not going to be in that situation too long."
McElroy retired Kotsay on a fly ball to the warning track in center and walked Cliff Floyd to load the bases. Alan Mills replaced him and walked Preston Wilson to force in the go-ahead run.
J. Johnson looking good
Jason Johnson has made two starts at Triple-A Rochester since being sent down, allowing two runs in 12 innings. He's totaled 32 innings in two stints with the Red Wings this season, surrendering four runs and 17 hits, walking 14 and striking out 32.
The Orioles never doubted Johnson's proficiency at the Triple-A level, which is why they'll look beyond the usual statistics when evaluating him.
"We're mainly interested in the number of pitches that Jason throws in his starts," Hargrove said. "It concerns me when a guy goes out and has thrown 100 pitches in five innings. One thing we talked to Jason about that he needs to work on is being more economical in his pitches, throwing more strikes, not nibbling nearly as much and being more aggressive."
Though Johnson won't be judged on wins, they probably would boost the confidence of a pitcher still looking for his first one this season at the major-league level.
"Success is always good for you no matter where you're at," Hargrove said. "Jason' s 0-8 right now in the big leagues. That can't be good for anybody."
Ricky Bones appeared at Camden Yards yesterday for the first time since being released by the Orioles on Aug. 20, allowing two run-scoring hits and a sacrifice fly after replacing reliever Vic Darens- bourg. He's an elder statesman on the Marlins' youthful staff, but he's been giving them more than years of experience.
Filling a variety of roles in the bullpen, Bones is 2-2 with a 2.22 ERA in 34 games. He's allowed 50 hits, walked 19 and struck out 38 in 51 2/3 innings. He hadn't permitted a run in eight straight appearances until giving up three to the New York Yankees on July 13, and being charged with one yesterday.
Compare those numbers to the ones he took out of Baltimore last August. He was 0-3 with a 5.98 ERA in 30 games, including two starts. He allowed 59 hits in 43 2/3 innings, and also spent 15 days on the disabled list with a tired arm.
Appearing in nine games in April, Bones allowed only three runs in 16 2/3 innings for a 1.62 ERA that took on weight as the summer progressed.
"It's been fun, it's been great," said Bones, 31. "Health has been a key. When I broke camp, I thought I was going to be a swingman, but I've been doing a little bit of everything in the bullpen, which is something I'm enjoying. I've been a long man, and I've pitched in middle relief and set-up. And it's working out pretty good.
"The people here are good about using the bullpen at the right time. The main concern isn't just winning, but also keeping everybody healthy. With so many young guys, you've really got to pay attention to it and not over-use anyone. They don't burn you out in the bullpen. Most of the time, when you get up, you go into the game. And they use everybody, not just who's hot."
Just as he insisted in spring training, Bones said he holds no hard feelings toward the Orioles.
"I still have nothing bad to say about it. I had a good experience here. Things just didn't work out."
Around the horn
The start of the game was delayed 1:17 because of rain. ... The Orioles tied a season high with 16 hits. It's the fifth time they've reached that total. ... Florida's Luis Castillo picked up his major league-leading 39th steal.