Hit debut

The Baltimore Sun

It was both historic and unspectacular.

It also was enough for Koji Uehara and his Orioles teammates to feel satisfied with the right-hander's indoctrination to major league baseball, a 7-5 victory over the New York Yankees.

"The Yankees have a great lineup, a lot of great players," said Uehara, the former Yomiuri Giants star who last night became the first Japanese native to play for the Orioles, through his translator. "It was an honor to get a chance to pitch against them and get a win. I'm really grateful and happy."

Uehara, who signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the club in January, threw five solid innings, allowing five hits and a run, while his offense staked him to a 7-1 lead.

After the third out of each inning, Uehara pounded his fist excitedly into his glove. At the end of the game - after the Yankees scored three ninth-inning runs but couldn't complete the comeback - Uehara playfully climbed onto Orioles catcher Gregg Zaun's back and hugged manager Dave Trembley and pitching coach Rick Kranitz.

"I think tonight's game, tonight's win, meant a lot to him, and it doesn't really surprise me," Zaun said.

Uehara, 34, called it one of the biggest moments of his professional career.

"It was a big night for baseball," Trembley said. "[For] Koji, the Orioles, the people in Japan, major league baseball ... a real big night."

Known as a strike-thrower, Uehara (86 pitches, 54 strikes) said the American ball is slicker than he is accustomed to, and he walked the first batter he faced, Derek Jeter. That was his only walk, though he allowed a base runner in each inning. But the Yankees' lineup, without the injured Alex Rodriguez in the middle, could not take advantage.

"He probably could have gone out for another inning, but we are not going to do that to him early in the year," Trembley said. "We are going to build him up. Let's remember he hasn't been a starting pitcher for a while, and let's remember all the other things he is learning to handle over here."

Said Uehara: "Innings-wise, it was short. But I was tenacious. I am real happy."

With 82 Japanese media members from 33 agencies at Camden Yards, and the game being broadcast live in his native country, Uehara acquitted himself well against Hideki Matsui, his old Yomiuri Giants teammate.

The Yankees' cleanup hitter went hitless in three at-bats against Uehara. He wasn't the only Yankees slugger to struggle. Maryland native Mark Teixeira continued his rough start while being booed by most of the 22,856 fans in attendance.

Teixeira, who signed a $180 million deal with New York this offseason, popped up three times and struck out once, making him 0-for-8 in his brief Yankees career before he hit an RBI double in the ninth and brought the tying run to the plate.

But Orioles closer George Sherrill got Matsui to pop up for the save.

Once again, the Orioles hammered the Yankees' starter. Chien-Ming Wang lasted just 3 2/3 innings, surrendering seven earned runs. Nick Markakis' 400-foot, two-run homer to right in the fourth inning chased Wang.

After bashing CC Sabathia on Monday, the Orioles have scored 13 runs on 17 hits in eight innings against Yankees starters.

The Orioles go for the sweep this afternoon. If successful, it would be the first time since their wire-to-wire season in 1997 in which the Orioles began a season 3-0.

Win No. 2 in 2009 has its own significance, however.

"I've got a lot of respect for [Uehara], and I think the team does, too," Trembley said. "And that's why they played like they did."

The Orioles were on the board early, scoring two runs in the first on three consecutive doubles by Adam Jones, Markakis (three hits, three RBIs) and Aubrey Huff.

They had more early opportunities against a wild Wang (0-1), but the Orioles ran themselves out of rallies. In the first inning, Huff was picked off attempting to steal third.

And in the third, Brian Roberts led off with a four-pitch walk but was caught stealing when Jones swung through a hit-and-run attempt. Roberts, more than halfway toward second, changed direction and headed back to first but was tagged out.

The Orioles exploded against Wang in the fourth, scoring five runs on four hits, including Markakis' first homer and a ground-rule double by Zaun.

Relievers Matt Albers and Danys Baez combined for three scoreless innings.

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