Devereaux launches his latest surprise onto garage across from Green Monster

JOHN EISENBERG

August 02, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

BOSTON -- For the longest time, it was one of those jittery games you could lose by not hitting a cutoff man or not getting down a sacrifice. Then Mike Devereaux hit a ball on top of the garage across second.

The Red Sox scored when Joe Orsulak could not block a single and a runner advanced a base. An uneasy, blustery day at Fenway Park, 3-3 into the seventh. And then someone in a powder-blue mechanic's shirt was on the roof across the street, running after the ball.

"I have never seen Mike hit a ball farther than that," Randy Milligan said after the Orioles' 9-3 win. "That was a total crushing."

The ball went over the 37-foot wall in left field. Over the screen that rises another 23 feet above the wall. Over the street that runs behind the ballpark. Over the front entrance to the garage.

It landed on the roof and rolled to the far edge, where a partition kept it from dropping to the street a full block away from the ballpark. Experienced Fenway eyes estimated that the ball would have flown 460 feet had the garage not intervened. And -- get this -- the wind was blowing in.

The home run, which might have been the Orioles' longest of the season, gave the club a 5-3 lead that Leo Gomez stretched in the next inning with a three-run homer into the screen.

"I thought mine landed in the screen, too," Devereaux said.

"It went over the screen," someone said. "Way over."

Devereaux's eyes widened. "Are you kidding?" he said. "No way."

Someone told him about the garage and the man in the powder-blue uniform putting a ladder against the wall, climbing up to the roof and jumping over ventilation ducts to get his ball.

Devereaux listened, smiling, and shook his head. "I don't know, fellas," he said, as if he were wondering whether this was an out-of-body experience. "I have to be honest: I didn't know I had that in me."

The Orioles could say that about Devereaux's entire 1992 season, of course. They knew he had become a competent major-league hitter, but did anyone expect him to be leading the club in home runs, triples, RBI and total bases?

Who is this, Eddie Murray in disguise, batting second?

"I don't know if 'surprised' is the right word for it," said Devereaux, who totaled four RBI yesterday, "because I knew before the season that I could hit with power. But I'm happy at the way things are turning out."

The way things are turning out, Devereaux and Gomez are supplying most of the home runs these days while the club waits for Cal Ripken to shake a slump, Chris Hoiles to heal and Glenn Davis to find his power stroke. Brady Anderson has stopped hitting homers and Milligan never really started this year. Devereaux, 29, is the only one to sustain it since April.

"But I have never considered myself a home run hitter," he said.

Perhaps he should reconsider. He hit 16 in his last year at Arizona State in 1984, 26 in Double A in 1987, and now 35 for the Orioles in the last two seasons. All of it despite having a body more suited to running the 100-meters than hitting garages across the street. But he has quick wrists and snappy reflexes and uses the biggest bat on the team, and it adds up.

"With that big log he swings," Milligan said, "if he gets the bat head out there and catches all of the ball, he is strong enough to send it a long way. He fools you [with his strength] if you don't stop and look at him."

He is on a pace to hit 25 homers and drive in 104 runs, and even if he doesn't make it, this will mark the fourth straight year in which his production numbers are up significantly. The question is how much higher can they go?

"The thing is, I'm still at the phase in my career where I'm learning as I go along," he said. "I'm learning about pitchers and learning to make adjustments at the plate. Getting smarter. I know I'm making more adjustments this year. Hopefully, that just keeps happening."

An example was the way he outfoxed Frank Viola, a fine pitcher who started for the Red Sox yesterday. Devereaux lunged at an outside pitch in his first at-bat and bounced into a double play, so Viola began pitching him outside. But Devereaux did not take the bait, and when Viola had to come back inside to avoid a walk, Devereaux singled in a run in the third. Then hit the garage in the seventh.

"What a shot," Milligan said. "On the bench, everyone's neck just jerked."

The win gave the Orioles two in a row over the Sox and four of six on this trip, and added to the 1992 time line another day in which you could only wonder where the club would be without Devereaux and Gomez carrying such a load. Even occasionally carrying it all the way across the street.

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