Flexible Gomez goes long on short notice

SIDELIGHT

May 09, 1994|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Sun Staff Writer

The movie "A League of Their Own" told us that there is no crying in baseball.

Johnny Oates offers his own credo, minus the splatter of tobacco juice.

"There's no such word as concern in baseball," he said while standing next to the batting cage before yesterday's game against the Cleveland Indians at Camden Yards.

Let that be a lesson to anyone who assumes the Orioles manager is wringing his hands over Chris Sabo's temperamental back.

The spasms that initially surfaced in Detroit on April 11 have made Sabo's status day-to-day. He was on the field at 11:11 a.m. yesterday taking ground balls at third base, and his name was in the lineup until 20 minutes before the game.

He didn't experience any trouble fielding, throwing, hitting or running. But while in the trainer's room, he bent over to tie his shoelace and couldn't straighten up.

"He was perfectly OK before that," Oates said. "He did all of his pre-game work with no problems whatsoever."

Sounds like cause for concern, but, remember, this is baseball.

Third base is "the one area we've got depth," Oates said.

As if to prove that point, Leo Gomez, a late substitution, hit his second home run of the season, a three-run blast to left off a hanging slider from reliever Chad Ogea that gave the Orioles an 8-0 lead.

He finished the day 1-for-4, but that one swing took on greater importance as starter Ben McDonald tired in the middle innings and the procession from the bullpen grew longer.

The game was in doubt until Lee Smith caught Mark Lewis looking at a third strike with the tying runs on base in an 8-6 win.

"I come in here every day positive," said Gomez, who was making his seventh start at third this season. He also served as the designated hitter for one game.

"Something like today happens and you have to be ready."

Gomez wasn't even supposed to be on the roster. Now, he's one of its valuable components.

He has hit safely in his past five games and is batting .333 with three doubles and seven RBIs. And he hasn't made an error in the field or in the way he's handled a potentially awkward situation.

"His attitude has been outstanding," Oates said. "With the way things have gone and all that's been written, I'm very proud of Leo and what he's doing and how he has stayed ready to play."

Even on 20 minutes' notice.

Even when the third-base job was supposed to belong to someone else after a 1993 season that included a 10-for-101 slump and surgery on his left wrist.

He appeared in one game after his return from the disabled list when rosters expanded Sept. 1.

The subject of trade rumors throughout spring training, Gomez said: "I'm just happy to be here. If I play, fine, and if I don't play, that's fine, too. Hopefully, we'll keep winning."

The Orioles did just that yesterday, with a fill-in at third base and without a trace of concern.

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