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MIN@BAL: Markakis rips a two-run shot to open scoring

BALTIMORE -- On one of the first days of spring, Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis dutifully stood at his locker in Sarasota, Fla., and patiently answered questions about January's abdominal surgery and the long road of rehab he still had ahead. He was unsure about his exact schedule, or how normal his recovery was, but the one thing Markakis never wavered on over seven weeks was that he would be ready to run out on the orange carpet with his teammates come Opening Day.

On Friday, Markakis -- who routinely gets one of the loudest ovations in pregame introductions -- didn't just suit up and start. He stole the show; blasting a home run and a triple and picking up three RBIs in the Orioles' 4-2 season-opening win over the Twins.

In front of a sellout crowd of 46,773, Baltimore celebrated the 20th anniversary of the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards by honoring the original battery of catcher Chris Hoiles and pitcher Rick Sutcliffe. Thanks to Markakis -- and a stellar start from Jake Arrieta -- the O's also gave hope for the present, turning in a well-played game all around.

"That was important to come out and set the tone the way we did," said Arrieta, who tossed seven scoreless innings, holding the Twins to two singles and a pair of walks. "I think as a whole, we take it personal that most people write us off the get-go. I think we made a statement today. We've got a lot to play for this year."

Arrieta, who was on the field taking pictures during batting practice, left a few lasting images of his own in picking up his second consecutive home-opening win. The 26-year-old righty, tabbed for his first Opening Day start, made several defensive plays on the mound to help his cause as Arrieta continues to prove last season's right elbow surgery -- to remove a bone spur -- has him back stronger and with improved location.

"It's very apropos, the two guys that really had the challenges [this offseason]," manager Buck Showalter said of the game's two stars, Arrieta and Markakis. "Let's keep in mind why Nick had that problem. Nick had that problem because of the way he plays the game, because of the constant pounding and the diving and things he does to separate himself from most right fielders. Jake really pitched a couple times toward the end [of last season] there when he probably shouldn't have.

"But this game has a way of giving back to you if you're true to it, and it makes me feel good to have two guys today get something back for what they put into it."

Markakis blasted Twins starter Carl Pavano's second pitch -- an 86-mph offering -- over the left-field wall for a two-run homer in his first at-bat. He added a run in the fourth, working a leadoff walk and later scoring on Matt Wieters' groundout, before just missing another homer in the sixth. Instead, Markakis settled for a triple to the center-field fence off Ryan Doumit's glove that scored shortstop J.J. Hardy.

"It was a fastball running back over the plate and he put a good piece of the bat on it," Pavano said of Markakis' first-inning homer, which was his first opposite-field shot since 2008. "It carried out. He put some good swings on some pitches today that hurt me."

Markakis, who also had a hard slide into home for the third out in the sixth, said the surgery to repair an abdominal tear is something he hopes is behind him. He is concentrating this season on developing a more consistent stance at the plate, and given Friday's result, echoed Arrieta's optimism about the 2012 Orioles.

"We got a great group of guys on our pitching staff, we got a bunch of bulldogs," he said. "They are going to give you everything they got for as long as they can go.

"I've said it a thousand times before. We have the greatest fans in baseball, and I really do believe that. Buck said it a thousand times, also. It's just a matter of putting a product on the field that the fans want to see and the fans can appreciate, and that's what we're shooting for."

Arrieta certainly did his part in the 97-pitch outing, relying on a fastball in the mid-90s to pick up four strikeouts before turning the game over to the bullpen. After reliever Matt Lindstrom made his Orioles' debut with a scoreless eighth, rookie Troy Patton served up a two-run homer in the ninth to bring on closer Jim Johnson -- who picked up his first save -- for the final two outs.

"My mindset was to just really to set the tone for our team in front of a great crowd," Arrieta said. "I had that experience [pitching last year's home opener] to kind of look back on and know how to approach the situation. I think I handled it pretty well as far as staying within myself, not letting the adrenaline take over and dictate my performance. I was able to take deep breaths, step off the mound when I needed to and kind of regain composure and go from there. I was able to stay within myself from start to finish and that was a big part of my outing."

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