Devereaux gets taste of winning Role may be greater against Reds in NLCS

October 09, 1995|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- He stood on the periphery of the champagne-and-shaving cream celebration late Saturday night in the home team's clubhouse at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, surveying the scene with a smile on his face.

It was fitting that Mike Devereaux was more a spectator than participant, getting a towel for one of his Atlanta Braves teammates whose face was splattered with cream or another whose eyes were burning with bubbly.

But Devereaux's role could change significantly this week.

When Braves right fielder David Justice fouled a ball off his knee earlier in the night, Devereaux came on for the final few innings of his team's 10-4, Game 4 victory over the Colorado Rockies that clinched Atlanta's spot in the National League Championship Series.

"I don't know if David would have been able to play in Game 5," Braves manager Bobby Cox said later. "Knowing David, he probably would have tried to play. But his knee swelled up pretty bad."

If Justice isn't able to play when the Braves open the NLCS against the Cincinnati Reds at Riverfront Stadium tomorrow night, the call likely will go to Devereaux. And even if Justice

recovers, the fact that the Reds will throw three straight left-handers at the mostly left-handed-hitting Braves means opportunity for the former Oriole.

The realization that the baseball gods must have been looking out for him in this long, strange trip of a season is not lost on Devereaux. His worst nightmare -- last season in Baltimore -- has turned into his ultimate dream: making the postseason for the first time in his career.

"I was with the Dodgers in 1988 [as a nonroster player], and they let me make the trip to New York for the National League Championship Series and to Oakland for the World Series," Devereaux said. "It was great to be there, but it does not compare when you're in uniform and playing in the games."

Devereaux has played sparingly since being picked up by the Braves on Aug. 25 from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for a minor-leaguer. He appeared in 29 regular-season games, mostly as a late-inning defensive replacement or pinch hitter, batting .255 with one home run and eight RBIs in 55 at-bats. He came off the bench in all four games against the Rockies, going 1-for-5.

Though he was having a decent year platooning in Chicago (.306 in 92 games, with 10 home runs, 21 doubles and 55 RBIs), the news of his trade was welcomed by Devereaux.

"I felt great in Chicago. I hit the ball well," he said. "But to go from a team that was playing out the string to a team that was 15 games ahead, who could complain about that?"

There is a part of Devereaux that wishes he were playing more, contributing to the Braves the way he did for most of his six seasons in Baltimore. But after what happened last year, Devereaux must take a step back to take a couple of steps forward.

Some thought he was distracted by contract negotiations that turned sour, when the Orioles gave Brady Anderson a lucrative, long-term deal and chose to sign Devereaux for only a year. Some believed that Devereaux's best year -- he hit 24 home runs and drove in 107 runs in 1992 -- was merely an aberration.

Devereaux said he has put the 1994 season behind him. It was certainly the most difficult year of his professional career, a year when he never got going and wound up as a part-time player. The Orioles' decision not to re-sign him was not second-guessed, not even by Devereaux.

"I had a terrible year," said Devereaux, who hit .203 with nine home runs and 33 RBIs in 85 games, striking out 72 times in 301 at-bats. "It was kind of time to turn the page."

Devereaux still has ties to Baltimore. The thing he missed most about not being with the Orioles this season was seeing Cal Ripken break Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games streak. "The good thing was that the White Sox were off, so I got to see it on TV," said Devereaux, who briefly considered coming to Camden Yards for the record-breaker.

Devereaux, who turned 32 in April, said he isn't sure of what the future holds in Atlanta. The Braves are chock-full of talent, especially in the outfield. But he can help them in their present form, especially against a team dominated by left-handed pitching.

"Having a guy like Mike Devereaux is a big plus," Cox said shortly after Devereaux arrived. "He's got experience. He can play all three positions in the outfield, and he hits right-handed."

Devereaux's next chance might come as a right fielder, a position he balked at playing when Orioles manager Johnny Oates wanted him to. But Devereaux said that this opportunity, should it come, might lead to a bigger role on another team next season.

"I don't know what's going to happen, but to have a chance to play in the postseason is what every player dreams about," he said. "This is definitely the highlight of my career."

As Devereaux stood in the clubhouse at Fulton County Stadium late Saturday night, the remnants of the celebration clung to his shirt. The smile remained transfixed on his face, this long, strange trip of a season turning suddenly bright.

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