Anderson's script lacks only ending

MIKE LITTWIN

April 16, 1992|By MIKE LITTWINDL

BOSTON -- It isn't that Brady Anderson lacks for a sense of drama. He didn't grow those sideburns because he's camera-shy.

It's just that the situation was wrong for him. It's the wrong role. The moment called for the strong, silent type to step to the plate and slap one out of the park. A Glenn Davis type. Remember him? Yeah, the guy in the picture standing next to the doctor.

Anderson, at his best, is a single-to-left, steal-a-base guy. He's supposed to unnerve pitchers, not undress them. What I'm saying is that Anderson hits a homer once a Purim.

And yet, Anderson had owned the game to that point. For years now, the Orioles have dreamed of Anderson dominating games -- and this was one. And here he was up at the plate, top of the ninth, two outs, the Orioles down a run.

And he grounded to first base.

Game over, just like that.

It's in the books as just your basic 6-5 Orioles loss, as if Cal Ripken committed two errors every game.

The ending was wrong. It didn't fit the game. And it sure didn't suit Anderson.

"I wished I'd gotten hit in the head," he said afterward. "Then Slak [Joe Orsulak] could have hit a homer, and we'd win.

"Would that be enough drama?"

What you like about Anderson is that he'd think about the drama part. A one- time, would-be phenom -- now hoping just to make a place for himself in the big leagues -- Anderson has the style to be a star. He just never produced the numbers.

So, sideburns.

And with the sideburns comes a last-chance season. This has to be it. He's 28 years old, and how long are people going to wait for a guy with a lifetime .219 batting average? Even in today's game, when a career .219 hitter is lucky to make a half-million a year, you have to produce a little more than that to pay your way.

Yesterday, he produced -- if oddly. It was an odd game. It was a game where the Red Sox fell all over each other and pulled the game out. It was a game where Ripken did make the two errors. He bobbled a ground ball that Pee-wee Herman would have handled. And he made a throwing error. Ripken is human, and somewhere Ozzie Guillen must be smiling.

It was a game, too, where Ben McDonald was overpowering for five innings and then went into self-destruct mode. We've seen that before. But rarely, even from McDonald, have we seen the stuff he's had in his first two starts. A prediction: This will be his breakthrough season.

But, mostly, what we were watching was Anderson. In the third, he hit a ball off the Green Monster. Left fielder Mike Greenwell faded back to the wall and then just watched the ball bounce. He stood there, the ball rolled, and the crowd booed. They would boo him every time he came to the plate. Anderson didn't stop running until he got to third, a triple that should have been a double.

In the fifth, he hit a triple that should have been an out. It was one of those high fly balls to center under a cloudless sky where the heavens intervened on Anderson's part.

"I watched the ball too long," he said, "or I might have had an inside-the-park homer. I knew it was a tough field. I should have gotten a better jump out of the box."

Nobody -- and I mean nobody -- would enjoy an inside-the-park homer more than Anderson. He's the baseball player who thinks like a decathlete. If the pole vault were part of the game, Anderson would be a superstar. If he could have come all the way, he would have tried it. Instead, he stopped at third and died there.

But his real moment came in the seventh, two outs and the Orioles down 4-2, a runner on second, and Anderson slapped an honest double to the wall to make it 4-3 and then scored on an Orsulak single to tie it up.

That was the comeback inning. That was when it looked as if the Orioles were going to pull the game out. The bullpen got in the way, however. So far this season, the bullpen, so reliable last season, has had trouble getting out of its own way.

It was 6-4 by the Orioles ninth when Chris Hoiles hit a homer and then Anderson got his shot.

"I had two strikes and I just lunged for the ball," Anderson said. "He's a tough pitcher."

The pitcher was Jeff Reardon, and he is tough. But that isn't why the Orioles are worried. They've been hurting on the offensive end, and Anderson, who's supposed to be a catalyst, came into the game with a .208 batting average and no stolen bases. Now, he's hitting .276. You can do that in April. You can be encouraged in April.

Johnny Oates, who wants to be encouraged, was forced to be honest: "Don't judge Brady on one game. Judge him on a whole season."

You see, as Oates could tell you, the play's the thing.

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