The left eye of Orioles second baseman Jerry Hairston looks as though he's suffering from an allergic reaction, but it's not pollen in the air that's causing the redness. He's still wearing proof of the bad-hop ground ball that struck him in the face during Friday's pre-game drills.
Hairston remained in the lineup last night and was able to joke about the incident while sitting at his locker before batting practice. The ball "fit perfectly in there," he said. "I've never been hit in the eye before. I'll tell you what, I was down for the count. Now I know how those boxers feel when they get hit and are wobbled."
Able to get the swelling down after being helped off the field, Hairston stayed in the lineup and went 1-for-3 with two walks and two RBIs while batting leadoff for the third time this season. He told manager Mike Hargrove before the game that he was seeing three baseballs. Hargrove advised him to hit the one in the middle.
"That was the game plan," Hairston quipped.
"It got a lot better as the day moved along. I didn't think that I'd be able to play when it happened. I couldn't see for an hour."
With the Minnesota Twins as the opponent, Hairston said he immediately thought of their former center fielder, Kirby Puckett, who was forced to retire prematurely because glaucoma had blurred the Hall of Famer's vision.
"You definitely count your blessings," he said. "You always take your health for granted. There are more important things than baseball."
Even so, Hairston was determined to get his at-bats Friday. "I knew if I was 70 percent, I was going to play," he said.
"I couldn't even see the ball. When the umpire said, 'Ball four,' I was like, 'Oh, OK.' "
Hairston had hit safely in five of his past six games before last night, batting .320 (8-for-25) with three doubles and five RBIs. He hit .349 (22-for-63) in the previous 18 games to raise his average from .165 to .246.
Picking up speed
Mike Kinkade has taken the traditional home run trot and turned it into a sprint.
After clearing the left-field fence during Friday night's game for his second homer this season, Kinkade again raced around the bases as if being timed in a spring-training drill. It was the same pace he chose after connecting off former Oriole Mike Mussina in a May 11 game at Yankee Stadium. Head lowered, he ran hard to first base and never broke stride until reaching the dugout.
Kinkade said he has been doing it this way since he began playing the sport. "That's just the way I run around, I guess," he said.
"I think I ran around slower once in high school. It didn't feel right."
His latest dash was shown on ESPN's "Baseball Tonight," with one of the program's talking heads suggesting that Kinkade slow down and wondering, in jest, whether he would slide into home.
"I've never really paid that much attention to it, but every one he's hit, in spring training on, he's run around the bases hard," Hargrove said. "Maybe he's hit so many that he doesn't have to remember them all."
Trombley happy for Twins
Reliever Mike Trombley spent parts of eight seasons in Minnesota, arriving in the majors after the Twins had won their second world championship in four years. As a rookie, he pitched for a club that contended for another division title in 1992 before falling short, then plummeted to the lowest depths.
Retirements and cost-cutting moves stripped the team of its best players, and the only flags being raised at the Metrodome were for surrendering. Attendance dropped as interest in the Twins faded, and a place that once shook from noise became silent.
The Twins were bottom-feeders when Trombley signed with the Orioles as a free agent in November 1999. Today, they hold the second-highest winning percentage in the majors while enjoying the best start in franchise history. It's a kind of turnaround, set in motion by a collection of young players either developed in the farm system or acquired in low-profile transactions, that Trombley believes the Orioles can experience.
"I see similarities. Absolutely," he said before scanning the home clubhouse at Camden Yards and taking roll call. "I see Chris Richard, Jerry Hairston, and the young pitchers here like Willis Roberts - guys who really are learning how to play. What they're going to be in the future is hard to tell, but they're learning what it takes to play every day and do well and take care of yourself. It's very similar, very similar."
Trombley worked out during the off-season with three Twins - Maryland alum Eric Milton, Brian Buchanan and A.J. Pierzynski - who also live in Fort Myers, Fla. Though never imagining the team would be 28-11 when its series against the Orioles began Friday, he knew it had the potential to surprise everyone predicting another last-place finish in the American League Central.
"I'd tell people all the time, 'You watch the Twins, they're going to be good.' They have a good bunch of guys. They're a good defensive team, with good hitters and young guys who, basically, it's their time. They have a great set of young arms. The bullpen's terrific. I pitched with all those guys, and they can pitch. They always play good defense, and they play hard. I'm happy for them."
Around the horn
Last night's lineup actually was a duplicate. Hargrove also used it April 20 in Tampa, when the Orioles won, 6-3. He has written out 39 different lineups in 43 games. ... Richard made his 10th start in center field. Only Melvin Mora (30) has been there more. "Being able to play all three outfield positions and first base allows me to use him in different positions and be able to play different people," Hargrove said. "It's more a function of that than him being the center fielder. Melvin Mora's our center fielder."