Gomez value begins to hit home

April 24, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

A certain columnist who shall remain nameless -- that noted wordsmith, initials K.R., pictured to the right -- recently wrote that the Orioles should release Leo Gomez.

Off with his head!

A personal aside to Lay-o, with apologies to Bryan Adams: Please forgive me, I know not what I do. Please forgive me, I can't stop writing about you.

Oh, Peter Angelos is loving this.

It's Angelos who demanded the Orioles keep Gomez, Angelos who insisted, "He's a very able player" when his front office failed to trade the third baseman-in-exile and contemplated his release.

As recently as last weekend, the Orioles were trying to peddle Gomez to San Diego, Minnesota or Boston, and they gladly would have settled for a minor-league prospect in return.

Since then, Gomez has helped them win two games, delivering an RBI double in last Saturday's 6-4 comeback victory over Texas, then the game-winning single in yesterday's 4-3 victory over Seattle.

All together with Mr. Angelos:

Oh, won't you stay-ay-ay, just a little bit longer?

Don't look now, but it's the dawning of the killer bench: Doubles by Lonnie Smith in back-to-back games, a home run by Jack Voigt on Thursday, four RBIs from Voigt, Tim Hulett and Jeff Tackett on Friday, and now this.

That's Lay-o, as in he-ro -- and never mind that he probably would not have faced Bobby Thigpen with one out in the eighth if Smith hadn't earlier replaced the injured Harold Baines.

The Orioles never seem to want Gomez, do they? But with Smith already in the game and Mike Devereaux and Chris Sabo nursing minor injuries, Hulett and Tackett were the only healthy pinch-hitters available to manager Johnny Oates.

Thus, Gomez got his chance, even though he was 0-for-2 with a strikeout. He also had drawn a walk -- but only after Seattle first baseman Greg Pirkl dropped his popup in foul territory for an error.

Would Oates have hit for Gomez?

Does Lee Smith jog slowly?

"I don't have to worry about that," Oates said, diplomatically.

Not after Gomez hit Thigpen's first-pitch fastball off for a looping single to left, making his first start of the season -- a start Oates scheduled even before Sabo's injury -- an unqualified success.

The crazy part is, Gomez suddenly has a role with this team -- not a big role, but a role. Sabo has missed two games with back spasms after playing the second half of last season with a ruptured disk. Who knows how often he'll be available?

Today could provide an early answer -- Sabo was 5-for-5 with a home run and a double off Seattle left-hander Greg Hibbard in the National League last season. He's obviously a gamer, but he's also batting .217 and displaying limited range. Is it the back, or not?

Hulett also can play third, and so can Voigt and even Tackett, in an emergency. The position is easily the Orioles' deepest, but Gomez also made two good defensive plays yesterday, and hit 17 homers as a regular in 1992. He's still the best of the lot.

"Leo's been a part of this ballclub from Day One, and will continue to be part of this ballclub," Oates said. "He'll play some first base, some third base and DH some against left-handed pitching."

Which isn't to say he should remain on the team the entire season. Eventually, Oates might prefer Damon Buford as a pinch runner, or a veteran left-handed hitter for his bench. Assuming Sabo stays reasonably healthy, Gomez still is the most logical man out.

It would be the best thing for the Orioles, and best thing for Gomez. He probably could start for two or three other clubs. But he won't start in Baltimore unless the Orioles resurrect him next season as the replacement for Sabo, who is under contract for only one year.

It's baseball.

Who knows?

"As long as I stay in the big leagues, I'm happy," Gomez said. "This is a business. I can't control the front office. The only thing I can control is how hard I work every day. If they want to trade me, fine. If they don't want to trade me, fine."

What else could he say? Gomez has expected to be traded ever since the Orioles signed Sabo on Jan. 14. But he obviously is drawing minimal interest from other clubs, a situation not likely to change after his soft single off a washed-up reliever, game-winner or not.

Whatever, he'll take it.

That's Lay-o, as in he-ro.

If only for one day.

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