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Izturis: Love the glove work

The Baltimore Sun

Cesar Izturis is known as a shortstop with a game-saving glove and a bat that offers little, if any, pop.

And, even in his impressive Orioles debut - one in which he singled and stole a base in his first at-bat and then homered in his last to essentially lock up the 10-5 Opening Day victory over the New York Yankees - Izturis was proudest of his defense.

"I think the defensive play" was bigger, Izturis said. "Instead of being a tie game, it kept it a one-run lead. So I think that the defensive play was good."

With two outs and a runner on second and the Orioles clinging to a 6-5 lead in the sixth, Derek Jeter singled up the middle. Xavier Nady raced from second to third and began heading home when he saw the stop signal. Meanwhile, Izturis dived to his left, stopped the ball from entering the outfield and then rifled a throw to third.

Third baseman Melvin Mora tagged Nady to end the inning.

"He made a great play," Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie said. "The ball was up in the air and his glove was in the air, and then to come back and throw it to third base. Those are plays that will benefit our staff the entire season. He is a player that's going to be big for us all year."

Still, the club expected the defense. But a two-run eighth-inning homer off Phil Coke that just slipped over the left-field wall - and off an outstretched fan's hand - to ignite the Orioles' win? By a guy with 12 career homers?

"I think we all knew what we're getting with him with the glove. But we are talking in the dugout - he's a .260 career hitter," Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts said. "It's not like he can't handle the bat at all. I'm glad that the fans got to see what kind of player he is right out of the chute. We're going to win with pitching and defense if we can, but also having him at the bottom of the order, he's going to really help us."

Mr. Cleanup

Mora had never started a game at cleanup in his big league career. That is, until Opening Day 2009.

With left-hander CC Sabathia on the mound, the right-handed-hitting Mora batted fourth, between left-handers Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff. It's something the Orioles could implement plenty this year against tough lefties.

"I talked to Melvin and Huffy in spring training about that, and that's the way I'd like to go early in the year and see how it plays out," manager Dave Trembley said. "I definitely want to split up the two guys hitting back-to-back left-handed."

Mora said it wasn't a big deal to be in the traditional run-producing spot in the lineup. He batted mainly second in 2008 and drove in 104 runs. He likely will bat fifth against right-handers this season.

"I think the difference last year, batting second or hitting leadoff, is you try to get on base for the big guys," Mora said. "I am not a big guy, I am a little guy. But if they make a mistake, I'll hit it."

First pitch for No. 2 man

Vice President Joe Biden, surrounded by children from the Reviving Baseball in Inner-cities program, threw out the ceremonial first pitch: a soft, high toss that split the plate but caused catcher Chad Moeller to get out of his crouch and catch it.

Biden became the first sitting vice president to throw out a ceremonial Opening Day pitch at Camden Yards. He's the third to throw one in Baltimore. Richard M. Nixon did it in the modern club's first home game at Memorial Stadium on April 15, 1954. Hubert H. Humphrey did it before Game 4 of the 1966 World Series.

Around the horn

Catcher Gregg Zaun had his mask custom-painted by a Toronto company. It's orange with fierce black birds on the side and the Maryland shield on the back. ... Umpire attendant Ernie Tyler, 84, worked his 50th consecutive Opening Day. ... The announced crowd of 48,607 was the largest for an Opening Day in Camden Yards history.

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