Wins are proof enough for Evans Orioles right fielder plays for love of it

April 26, 1991|By Peter Schmuck

If Dwight Evans is out to prove the world wrong, he would be the last one to admit it, even if it is becoming apparent that the world has underestimated him.

Evans bristles at the concept, choosing instead to trade in team-oriented platitudes while the rest of the baseball public marvels at his return to the outfield after more than a year's absence.

The Boston Red Sox didn't think he would come back to play regularly in right field. Maybe it's too early to say that he has. But Evans has been out there enough and has been productive enough to prove that 39 is not too old to start over with a new team. He's just getting tired of explaining himself.

"I'm not playing to prove to people in Boston or anywhere else that I can still play or can't play," said Evans, who returns with the Baltimore Orioles to Memorial Stadium tonight to begin a three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers. "I play because I love to play."

The issue, he'll say, is not how many games he plays or whether he plays or when he plays. It is whether he is a part of a winning team. But just about everyone else in the Orioles clubhouse will tell you that the club's prospects for 1991 are tied closely to the number of times Evans is in the lineup, because he is a winner.

There are the more practical reasons, of course. When Evans is in right field, manager Frank Robinson can get one more big hitter into the lineup. When Evans is healthy and productive, the Orioles can bank on another 75 or more RBI from the heart of the batting order. But there are other players who rate similar respect in the Baltimore lineup.

The thing that made Evans most attractive to the Orioles last NTC winter was less tangible. It was the thing that made Evans find a way to contribute to the Red Sox in their drive to the division title last year despite the debilitating back injury that kept him out of ,, right field. His reputation as one of baseball's best clutch hitters is well-known.

The Orioles had plenty of baserunners in 1990. They finished fifth because they did not have many big hits. In the parlance of the trade, they didn't know how to win. Evans does.

But, for some reason, it keeps boiling down to how many games he can play in right field, which has become a source of irritation to him, since everyone keeps asking him to make some kind of prediction.

"What difference does it make?" he said. "The man asked me to play 40 or 50 games, and then they made a trade and they need more. I'm trying to please them. The manager has treated me well, and I'm going to play as hard as I can."

After not playing defensively since August 1989, he has played virtually full time through the first 2 1/2 weeks of the season. He also has produced at the plate -- hitting .286 with six RBI in 11 games -- though he remains his own biggest critic when it comes to his performance with the bat.

"I don't think I'm where I want to be as far as swinging the bat," he said. "I don't feel I'm really in a position to hit home runs right now. It's kind of hard to explain to someone who doesn't play the game, but there are times when you go to the plate and you know you have a chance of popping one. I just don't have that feeling yet.

"The thing about older players is, you pick your times. The key to this game is, don't try to do what you can't do."

Robinson said he isn't particularly concerned about Evans' home run total this year, though he enjoys seeing the ball leave the park as much as anybody. But that was not the main consideration when the Orioles pulled Evans out of the free-agent market in December.

"Of course, they matter," Robinson said, "but I'm not home-run crazy. I like to see a base hit with the bases loaded, or a two-out hit with runners at second and third.

"I'm very pleased with what [Evans] has done so far. He's been able to play right field on a regular basis. He's swinging the bat better every day. He's not in a good groove yet, but he's still been productive. If four or five other guys were doing the same thing, we would have won a few more games."

Therein lies one of the reasons that Evans isn't ready to revel in his renewal. The Orioles are 5-8 and are at the bottom of the division standings. He is not a player who accepts failure, either individual or collective, without a fight.

"What's on my mind is the way we're playing right now," he said. "When we're getting good pitching, we're not hitting. When we're hitting, we're not getting good pitching. We're just not playing together yet. Hopefully, it's just that guys are still getting used to their roles and getting used to their teammates.

"Right now, we're trying not to not to panic. We're trying to stay loose, because we know we're stinking it up. We're serious, but you don't want to get as tight as a banjo string. We'll come around."

This is where the experience comes into play. It is another reason Evans is here.

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