Gomez's first Oriole outing is packed with hits, errors

September 18, 1990|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,Evening Sun Staff

After one game Leo Gomez is batting .667 and fielding .600. Such a trend might be cause for alarm, but Orioles manager Frank Robinson scoffed at the notion of judging a player in his major-league debut.

By every account, Gomez is a better third baseman than he appeared last night, when he made two errors and nearly a third in the Orioles' 7-3 loss to Boston at Memorial Stadium.

Farm director Doug Melvin said he believes Gomez can play the position in the majors. The issue could become complicated, for the Orioles almost certainly will want Gomez's bat in their lineup next season.

Last night he went 2-for-3 off Red Sox starter Mike Boddicker and drew a walk off reliever Larry Andersen. He was admittedly nervous in the field, but figures to be steadier when the series resumes tonight (7:35, HTS).

Still, the question as the Orioles prepare for the organization meetings Thursday is where Gomez will fit next season -- at third base, where he likely would compete with Craig Worthington, or in the outfield.

Gomez, 23, said Melvin asked him in July about playing the outfield. Naturally he would welcome such a move, if it helped him reach the majors sooner. Melvin, however, seems against the idea, at least for now.

"We've talked about it vaguely," Melvin said. "Personally, I don't see it happening. But when you have meetings you always discuss players changing positions to try to make things work out.

"He's aggressive at the plate. The way we've hit this year, we've got to find a place for somebody like that. [But] we have to see if he's going to be a third baseman. I think he's going to be. I think he can play here."

Gomez, 6 feet and 180 pounds, acknowledges that he lacks speed, and he believes a change in positions would be "hard." He told Melvin his only outfield experience was during winter ball in his native Puerto Rico.

The Orioles, of course, could also use a designated hitter -- their DHs are batting an American League-low .213 -- but Melvin said he does not believe young players like Gomez should be put in that role full time.

So, barring a trade, a showdown between Gomez and Worthington could be looming next spring. Worthington, 25, is an excellent defensive player, but after an outstanding rookie season, he's batting only .224 with eight homers and 44 RBIs.

Robinson did not guarantee that Gomez would play every day the rest of the season, but that's the likely scenario. Gomez batted .277 with 26 homers and 97 RBIs in his first season at Triple A. The Orioles waited to promote him until Rochester completed its playoffs.

He finally joined the club yesterday, and history will show that the Orioles were officially eliminated from contention on the night of his debut. Their magic numbers were 13 (strikeouts), four (errors) and three (wild pitches).

The Red Sox, meanwhile, snapped a four-game losing streak to stay one game ahead of Toronto. Mike Boddicker worked six innings for his 16th victory, the second highest total of his career. He won 20 for the Orioles in 1984. This year he was 4-0 against them, with a 3.30 ERA.

Ben McDonald (7-5, 2.81) again lasted only 3 2/3 innings against Boston -- he has worked into the sixth in each of his 10 other starts -- but it was a strange night. Tony Pena had the Red Sox's only two RBI hits. Two of their runs scored on sacrifice flies, two on errors, one on a wild pitch.

Gomez's first error capped Boston's three-run fourth, but that was the one Robinson excused, coming as it did off a difficult hop on a ball hit by Dwight Evans. "A tough error," Robinson said. Or, as rookie first baseman David Segui put it, "Not too many people make that play."

But the next inning, Gomez threw low and wide on a force play at second, and only a nifty backhand grab by Bill Ripken kept him from getting another error. Then in the eighth, he rushed another throw without setting his feet, and it was all Segui could do to knock it down.

That was Error No. 2, and Robinson called it "very careless." Melvin said he was surprised by the poor throw, because Gomez has an above-average arm. But Segui, his teammate much of the year at Rochester, was forgiving. "I think he was just a little nervous," he said.

Gomez made 20 errors at Rochester this season, playing on a field Segui described as "brutal." Melvin and general manager Roland Hemond said earlier that he made dramatic improvement defensively. Pitcher Mickey Weston said he was "outstanding" in the playoffs.

So, was this the real Leo Gomez? In the field, probably not. But at the plate, maybe. Gomez and Cal Ripken were the only Orioles with two hits. Gomez and Steve Finley were the only ones who did not strike out.

Nine of the Orioles' last 13 hitters registered Ks, but Gomez drew a walk in his final trip, getting ahead of Anderson 2-0 and laying off a tough slider for ball three. Anderson has allowed only six hits in 14 innings since joining the Red Sox, striking out 20 and walking three.

Boddicker, the man of many speeds, was no less a challenge: "He can make hitters look bad, period," Robinson said. "But he can be really tough on young hitters." Unfazed, Gomez touched him for two singles, the second of which was a rocket to center.

Afterward, Gomez retreated to his new locker, which is located in a tiny corridor and separated from the main clubhouse by the shower room. He shook his head vigorously when asked if he had been nervous. But he seemed no worse for the wear.

"I'll tell you what," he said, smiling. "My first game at Rochester, I did the same thing. Two errors in one game. This reminded me of that. I told myself then, if they play me every day, it won't happen again."

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