Hendrickson (1-0) succeeded in his Orioles regular-season debut Friday night because he set himself an attainable goal: Pitch well enough to give his teammates' resurgent offense a chance to strike.
His start couldn't have gone much better. The left-hander allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings against his former team and helped Baltimore to a 5-4 victory over Tampa Bay.
"It was fun," said Hendrickson. "It's something where we're playing all facets of the game well right now. It showed tonight -- we did a little bit of everything. ... The defense, it's fun for me to let them do their thing behind me. The offense, we've got a good lineup. For the most part, we're playing good baseball. Now we've just got to keep it going."
Signed to a one-year, $1.5 million deal in the offseason, the veteran was supposed to serve as a swingman out of the Orioles' bullpen. But Hendrickson, who was pressed into service in the rotation during Spring Training, allowed six hits, walked two and struck out two against the defending American League champions, for whom he pitched for from 2004-06.
"If he can go out and do that every fifth day, I don't know why we'll be in any trouble," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said.
The 6-foot-9 southpaw is unbeaten in April going back to April 27, 2006, when he was with the Rays -- though that statistic seems impressive to everyone but Hendrickson. Since then, he's 6-0 in seven starts during the month (last season's Opening Day loss with the Florida Marlins came on March 31).
"It's important to come out to a good start," said Hendrickson. "I don't pay much attention to it; it's just a matter of trying to treat every start [like] going out there and trying to give my team a chance to win. Ultimately, if I can do that, then I'm doing my job, I focus more on that."
Hendrickson's lone mistake was a 1-1 fastball that Evan Longoria crushed over the wall in center for his third homer with two out in the first. But the Rays ran themselves out of two other potential rallies. Longoria's homer might have been a two-run shot had Carl Crawford not been thrown out at third, trying to stretch a double to right-center into a triple.
In the fourth, Gabe Kapler drew a one-out walk and stole second before Ben Zobrist's infield single to third. But Kapler overran third and was tagged out in an inning-ending rundown.
That and a healthy does of offense from a team that has scored 24 runs in the first four games of the season was enough to end the Rays' franchise-best run against a divisional foe.
"It felt good," said closer George Sherrill, who notched his second save despite allowing Dioner Navarro's ninth-inning solo homer. "I didn't know the numbers; that's something we try to stay away from because it will sway you one way or the other. It was a good win and one that we needed. You always want to win the first one and try and win a series from there."
Friday's victory essentially puts a dozen games of Rays' dominance in the rearview mirror.
"It's 2009, so you put 2008 to bed," said manager Dave Trembley. "You put that streak to bed. I dare say, I didn't even think about it. I know it was there. ... They have a good team, and deservedly so. We have learned a lot from them, we are trying to pattern ourselves in a way that's taking a little bit from everybody that's had some success and it comes down to pitching and defense."
Melvin Mora drove in three runs for the Orioles, two coming in the first on a two-run single that erased the Rays' 1-0 lead. Baltimore got three more runs in the fifth, going up 5-1 on RBI singles by Nick Markakis and Mora and a wild pitch by Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine that plated Aubrey Huff.
"That's what you have to do in this division -- keep teams at bay and keep giving us a chance," Hendrickson said.
Once Hendrickson departed, right-hander Danys Baez, who piled up 71 saves as Tampa Bay's closer from 2004-05, pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out the first four Rays he faced. Jim Johnson worked the eighth, allowing Longoria's second homer of the game, a two-run shot to left.
Sonnanstine (0-1) lasted 4 2/3 innings, giving up five runs on eight hits and four walks. He struck out two.
Pete Kerzel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.