Huff, who made some controversial comments on a radio program during the winter, won the fans back the hard way. He came to bat with a three-run deficit in the sixth, but responded by blasting a ball onto the Eutaw Street flag court. Huff faced a higher difficulty rating in the eighth, but he erased a one-run deficit by steering a two-run double to right-center.
"That was the sweetest home run I've ever hit. I'm not going to lie to you," he said shortly after the game. "I hit that ball and [thought], 'Please, just get out. I just don't want to have to deal with it.' In my next at-bat after that, I kind of heard more of a mixed crowd instead of all boos. Hopefully, like I've said, we'll win some hearts back."
"Fans are entitled to do whatever they want," added Baltimore manager Dave Trembley. "They pay their money [when] they come out here. I wouldn't think one way or the other is going to really influence people. I think it probably feels pretty good for him. It feels good for our club that we won the game and we got so much out of so many different guys."
Baltimore had trailed for virtually all of the game before Huff's heroics, and it went on to seal the deal with two additional runs in the eighth. Strangely enough, the outburst was completely in character for Huff, who has throttled the team that drafted and developed him. Last year, for instance, Huff batted .365 and hit seven of his 15 homers against Tampa Bay.
"It's just one of those things," Huff said. "It's a coincidence. Hopefully, we can transfer that to the rest of the league."
"I just think he's jacked up about doing it against us more than anything," said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon. "I mean he hit a breaking ball, he hit a fastball today. From my perspective, obviously, you'd like to think you're not making good pitches. But sometimes hitters just get you regardless. And he's getting us right now."
Things got off to a dicey start on Wednesday, thanks to a spotty performance by starter Daniel Cabrera. The hulking right-hander gave up a three-run homer to Cliff Floyd in the first inning and a two-run shot to Carlos Pena in the fifth. Cabrera walked five batters and gave up six hits, but was long gone by the time the game was decided.
"The only thing I've got on my mind right now is we won the game," said Cabrera, who led the league with 18 losses last year. "I let up six runs, but my teammates picked me up and I'm happy for that. Whatever else happened is past."
Cabrera walked three batters in the third inning but managed to get two key outs with the bases loaded. He ran into more trouble in the fifth, when Pena gave the Rays (1-1) a two-run lead. Cabrera went on to load the bases on a double, a fielder's choice and a walk, and Trembley took the ball from him before the game could get any further away.
"It had been the third time around in the lineup for those guys. I wasn't going to let it go again," he said. "I felt like if we kept it close and we got in their bullpen, we were going to have a chance to win -- so you've got to try to keep the game close because the lineup was going to turn over for us. We were going to have our better guys get two more shots at the plate."
They needed help from Rule 5 Draft pick Randor Bierd just to get to that spot, and the rookie made his Major League debut in the toughest of all circumstances. Bierd came in with the bases loaded and no outs in a game his team trailed by two runs, but the right-hander escaped on a ground ball double play and a ground ball to second base.
Baltimore (1-1) got one more inning out of Bierd, then handed the ball to its more experienced arms. Situational veterans Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker (1-0) pitched scoreless innings to keep the score where it was, and George Sherrill fired a scoreless ninth to pick up his first save. Baltimore's bullpen has already pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings this season.
"I thought I was just going to come in and get some work, but it ended up meaning something," said Sherrill of his first save with the Orioles. "It just feels real good to get the first one of the way and go out and make my pitches."
Leadoff man Brian Roberts homered in his first at-bat, and Nick Markakis and Melvin Mora both delivered key hits in Baltimore's two-run third inning. First baseman Kevin Millar had a key at-bat in the eighth, where he worked reliever Al Reyes (0-1) and wound up with a one-out single. A few moments later, Huff put the Orioles ahead for good.
"We're going to have to get production out of the guys in the middle of the lineup -- and we did that at opportune times tonight," said Trembley. "I thought we were very patient tonight at the plate. We ran a lot of counts deep, fouled a lot of balls off, got a lot of two-strike hits. And obviously the last three guys in the bullpen did the job."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.