Pagliarulo makes a powerful statement Orioles start shows he can still go deep

September 14, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

BOSTON -- Mike Pagliarulo has come home to New England, which must be nice after spending most of the year in Minnesota and much of the past month in Baltimore. He lives in the Boston suburb of Winchester, but he has managed to make himself very comfortable in the Orioles' lineup.

Have bat, will travel. That's the philosophy you have to have when you're not quite a marquee player and not quite a utility man. Pagliarulo was acquired by the Orioles to provide experience and depth during the club's division drive, but he has done much more than that.

Take Sunday night for instance. He hit a three-run home run in the Orioles' 14-5 victory over the Oakland Athletics in the final game of the homestand at Camden Yards.

In the 19 games he has played since the club sent minor-league pitcher Erik Schullstrom to the Minnesota Twins to acquire him, Pagliarulo is hitting .300 with five home runs and 16 RBI.

Not bad for a guy who generally was thought to have misplaced his power stroke sometime in the late 1980s. Pagliarulo once was considered one of the top young power hitters in the game -- hitting 28 home runs for the Yankees in 1986 and 32 in 1987 -- but he turned into a singles hitter and never was more than a part-time player with the San Diego Padres and Twins.

"I had been told that he had lost it power-wise," manager Johnny Oates said. "I think he has showed in a short time that he can still do it. In our ballpark, it's tough for a ground ball hitter to make a living."

Pagliarulo never thought of himself as a ground ball hitter, but the perception stuck after he went to Minnesota and was told to alter his approach for the good of a contending team. He went from hitting for power to hitting for average, a trade-off that he wasn't altogether thrilled to make.

"It was something I was told to do," he said. "In the future, I want to be able to do both. I want to hit for power and average. In Minnesota, they said the power was gone, but I don't think you can take power away from someone."

There are some American League pitchers who might be inclined to agree. Pagliarulo, 33, has showed a lot of muscle since the trade to the Orioles. He hit a grand slam off Nolan Ryan on Aug. 21 in his first week with the club. He also had a four-hit game in August.

The Orioles brought him in because he was a veteran player who had played under pennant race pressure on several occasions -- the same reason they acquired outfielder Lonnie Smith last week. Pagliarulo has had a positive effect both on the field and in the dugout, though he denies that he has made any conscious effort to provide leadership.

"I don't do anything on purpose," he said. "I just want to play. I try to prepare myself to play and contribute. That's how winning goes."

It can't be easy to walk into an entirely new situation and make an immediate impact. Pagliarulo has played well from the day he arrived.

"The players here have really made me feel comfortable," he said. "I've been traded before [from New York to San Diego]. It was tough because I didn't know anybody. It's been easier this time because I've played against these guys and I played with Mark Parent. It's also easier when you stay in the same league.

"It's hard for anybody because you have to make adjustments. Hopefully, you'll fit in and the things you say won't make anybody mad. You want to feel relaxed."

He apparently knows how to win. Pagliarulo learned how to play under constant pressure in New York, then played on a contending team in San Diego before going to the World Series with the Twins in 1991. He sees some comparison between the chemistry on this Orioles club and the winning chemistry the Twins displayed in 1991 and 1992.

"We worked on that chemistry, as far as getting ready to play and having the same goal in mind," he said. "Everybody thought about winning. I don't like to be always referring to the teams I've been on, but it seems that on winning teams, everybody is unselfish. They'll do whatever it takes."

Pagliarulo is doing whatever he can in the short time allotted for him to make an impression on the Orioles and their fans. He would like to come back next year, but doesn't want to get too far ahead of himself with the team very much alive in the AL East.

"I'd rather not look beyond this year," he said, "but it certainly would be nice. Part of winning is not focusing on the future, just the game at hand. I know that's a cliche, but it makes a lot of sense."

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