For Devo, early returns all positive

SIDELIGHT

May 12, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

Three days had passed since Mike Devereaux had been struck in the face by a pitch, and all of the signs were good.

For starters, the swelling in Devereaux's left cheek had gone down remarkably. What's more, Sunday's incident, in which Devereaux mistook Cleveland pitcher Chad Ogea's fastball for a slider and left the game bleeding profusely from the mouth, sent no chills through his hot bat.

Devereaux came into last night's game against Toronto with a six-game hitting streak, during which he had hit three home runs, driven in nine and raised his average 64 points to .224.

One of the more impressive nights of his mini-streak was Monday, when Devereaux surprised teammates by returning to the lineup against Toronto, wearing a protective mask over his swollen cheek. All he did was score the go-ahead run, then run down a long drive by Joe Carter in the eighth inning with the tying run on first to help the Orioles preserve a 4-1 victory.

"You want to get it out of your mind as soon as possible. That's why I got back in there," he said.

"If you get hit in the face and sit out for a week, I guarantee you'll have too much time to think about it, wondering if you're going to flinch [at the plate]. You've got to get back on your feet, get back in there and get it out of your mind."

In Devereaux's case, a matter of a few inches allowed him such a choice. Had Ogea's pitch struck him a few inches higher, the damage could have been career-threatening.

"I was looking for a slider away. A slider breaks late. A fastball runs in," said Devereaux, who had never been hit by a pitch above the shoulders at any level of baseball. "I always chew gum and I had my jaw closed tight [when the pitch hit him].

"A lot of things went through my mind when I was on the ground. The first thing I did was check my teeth. Then, I closed my mouth to see if it closed correctly, which it did. Once I got into the training room, I could tell that nothing was broken."

Said Orioles manager Johnny Oates: "A baseball can do a lot of damage, especially when it hits you around the head. I was worried about his personal safety more than anything else. You just hope that it's not serious, that there's no permanent damage."

Once he knew he had escaped serious injury, Devereaux's main concern was interrupting his most impressive hitting streak of the season. After an injury-marred spring training, he opened the season with a home run in his first at-bat, then gradually slipped into a slump.

After the game of May 1, when his average dipped to .160, Devereaux's bat suddenly caught fire. He hit two home runs nine days ago in Oakland to lead the Orioles to one victory, then won the following day's game against the A's with a sacrifice fly in the 10th inning.

He then feasted on Cleveland pitching last weekend, culminating in his Mother's Day performance, in which he drove in four runs with a home run and a triple in his first two at-bats, before Ogea's pitch ended his afternoon prematurely.

"One of the things that crossed my mind while I was down there was 'Wow, I'm seeing the ball well and now I get hit.' "

Devereaux is back in his customary No. 2 spot in the order. The average is rising slowly, and Devereaux continues to make major noise when he connects. Ten of his 22 hits had gone for extra bases before last night's game. He was second on the team with seven home runs, and eight of his 19 RBIs had either tied a game or put the Orioles ahead.

"It's only a matter of time," Oates said. "Devo isn't a .211 hitter."

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