MINNEAPOLIS -- For Leo Gomez, being relaxed is beneficial -- but being too relaxed is detrimental.
Somewhere in between is a fine line the Orioles' third baseman feels he found last night. Two doubles, three runs batted in and a victory can have that effect.
Contrary to a popular belief that he had been pressing, Gomez feels his situation was exactly the opposite. "I've been too relaxed at the plate," he said after helping the Orioles to a 10-5 win over the Minnesota Twins. "Too relaxed, and not aggressive enough."
Gomez said that the absence of a third-base controversy, which swirled around him and Craig Worthington the last two years, has a positive effect. "It's easier for me [this year].
"Sometimes it's hard when you have two guys. I don't have to come in here [the clubhouse] and look at the lineup to see if I'm playing. I know if I'm not playing today, I'll be playing tomorrow."
Gomez did not start the final game of last weekend's series in New York, the only one he's missed this year. He wasn't in the lineup that day because manager John Oates believes Gomez needs an occasional rest -- not because his production was lagging.
"I wasn't concerned about Leo," said Oates. "I just know from last year that he needs a day off once inc a while. I think he gets mentally tired and can use an off-day every two or three weeks.
"There's no particular reason for it," said Oates, "just that it's refreshing. It [a day off] is like a cool day in July -- it's a shot in the arm. I think most players benefit from a day off now and then."
Oates, of course, has a player in his lineup (Cal Ripken, who has now played 1,593 consecutive games) who thrives on the opposite approach. "He [Ripken] is the extreme opposite example," said Oates. "I think they're probably more guys like Leo than Cal."
Going into last night's game, Gomez was hitting .241 with just four runs batted in. It took only two swings of the bat, in the sixth and seventh innings, to almost double his RBI total and help the Orioles to turn a 3-2 lead into a near rout.
And even on his last at-bat, a towering foul ball caught by shortstop Greg Gagne, Gomez had that aggressive feeling. "I just missed that pitch," he said.
On a night when Mike Mussina won his third straight despite not having his best stuff and Cal Ripken ended his longest season-opening home run drought (previously 12 games), Gomez may have given the Orioles their biggest lift.
Run production from third base is something the Orioles need to balance their offense. And even though Gomez has kept his average in the respectable range, there had been little pop in his swing.
"I don't know whether he was too relaxed or not," said hitting coach Greg Biagini, "but I would say he wasn't being aggressive. was pulling off the ball."
During extra batting practice the last two days, it was a subject of discussion between Biagini and Gomez. "He's a power hitter," Biagini said, "and we talked about driving the ball, hitting all the way through it, not being satisfied just by making contact.
"Tonight [last night] was probably the most aggressive he's been all year."
It came at a good time. "I thought this was a big game for us, for a number of reasons," said Oates. "Even though we were already assured of a winning record for this month, we wanted to come away with a good feeling.
"We'd won three in a row and then lost three of four -- and you don't want to come home with a 4-5 record after winning the first three.If you can go through these three cities (Kansas City, New York and Minnesota) with a 6-3 record, you have to be happy with yourself."
dTC The Orioles needed a win today in order to claim a 6-3 record on this trip, but at least they already know they can return to Baltimore for a 10-game home stand better off than when they left.
Mussina was bothered by a few long-ball lapses last night, giving up a pair of two-run homers to Greg Gagne (1) and Kirby Puckett (2) and a run-scoring double to Chili Davis, but he didn't unravel until after the Orioles had built a 10-2 lead. Last night was the first time he'd allowed more than two runs in 10 starts, dating back to last year, when the Twins pinned a 5-2 defeat on him Aug. 31 in the Metrodome.
"Make sure you talk to the hitters," the right-hander said in dismissing his contribution. "I got a little tired, but that's no excuse for making poor pitches. They got me 10 runs and Devo [Mike Devereaux] made a great catch [on a drive by Puckett in the sixth inning].
"If Devo doesn't make that catch, there's no telling what might have happened."
Instead of a potential big inning, the Orioles preserved a 6-2 lead and added four more runs, two each in the next two innings to make the decision academic. Gomez' second double drove in two runs in the seventh and Ripken hit his first home run of the season, a two-run homer in the eighth.
Earlier Mark McLemore (two hits and a walk) had keyed a three-run sixth inning with a bases-loaded single to make it 6-2.
The Twins scored three runs in the eighth inning before Todd Frohwirth came on to finish the game, but the only damage was to Mussina's earned run average, which almost doubled to 2.37.
But that was easily the worst thing that happened -- and it didn't disturb anybody. With one game to go, the Orioles are assured a successful road trip and can look forward to 16 of their next 21 games at home, where they have won six of seven games.