CARACAS, Venezuela -- Andres Galarraga returned to Universitario Stadium for the first time in seven years Saturday night, and, predictably, the sellout crowd of 28,352 fans greeted him like a conquering hero.
In pregame introductions, Venezuela's most popular celebrity was welcomed back with a deafening ovation, which would have gone on for five minutes if the public address announcer hadn't continued with the remainder of the Braves lineup.
"Probably the best fans you'll ever see are down here," said outfielder George Lombard, who played winter ball here in December.
Galarraga gave the fans their money's worth with a first-inning single and a leaping grab of Fred McGriff's screaming liner in the second.
Kidding Galarraga before the game, Brian Jordan asked him if he was nervous.
"Yes," he answered. "It's more difficult here than in the World Series." ...
Jordan is nursing a sore right shoulder, a result of too much throwing this spring. He yielded his right-field spot to Lombard, but stayed in the lineup as the DH.
"You've got to love it," he joked. "I get to sit in the dugout and swing."
Apparently the sit-and-swing approach works. Jordan launched a two-run homer against Tampa Bay starter Juan Guzman in the first inning. ...
Kerry Ligtenberg's appearance against the Devil Rays was brief. Quinton McCracken's grounder bounced up and glanced off the right side of his face in the sixth inning, forcing him from the game. He was checked by club doctors Joe Chandler and not taken for x-rays....
John Rocker's goal for his second spring appearance were simple enough. He wanted to display better command than he did last Tuesday, when he struggled to control his fastball against the Tigers.
"I just want to throw more strikes and be more consistent around the plate," he said. "I want to leave the mound with the feeling that I pitched better than I did last time."
Instead, his control deserted him entirely as he failed to last an inning, missing the strike zone with 16 of 26 pitches.
Rocker took over for Ligtenberg and walked Dave Martinez and Jose Canseco to load the bases, then gave up an RBI single to Steve Cox. He coaxed a double play grounder from John Flaherty and allowed a RBI single to Herbert Perry, then walked Bubba Trammell and departed to a hail of boos and catcalls....
Quilvio Veras was atop Saturday night's lineup until manager Bobby Cox received word that the second baseman was stuck in Puerto Rico. He returned to his Dominican Republic home Thursday to get a work visa for the United States, then apparently didn't have a visa to visit Venezuela. There was no word if Veras would arrive in time for this afternoon's game.
Keith Lockhart replaced Veras at second base and contributed a two-run double in the second. ...
Ozzie Guillen lives in Caracas, so he invited several teammates and Devil Rays to his home for a lunch of chicken and rice Saturday. Jose Canseco, Vinny Castilla, Roberto Hernandez, Dave Martinez, Brian Hunter, Reggie Sanders, Javy Lopez and Jordan accepted his invitation. ...
Eddie Perez didn't want his first spring game to be in front of his family and friends here, but that's how it worked out. After recovering from winter surgeries on his knee and shoulder, then nursing a sore right arm for the last 10 days, he was in Saturday's lineup, received a thunderous greeting from his countrymen and contributed an RBI single in the third.