Studious Surhoff aces exam with homer Learns from his first at-bat, those of mates vs. Guardado

Sidelight

April 14, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Minnesota Twins reliever Eddie Guardado probably thought he had B. J. Surhoff all figured out yesterday, but obviously it was the other way around.

Surhoff had missed a couple of fastballs in the sixth inning and grounded out in his first at-bat against the Twins left-hander. He was looking for something along the same lines in the eighth inning, and drove a high fastball off the right-field foul pole for a two-run homer to erase what remained of a five-run deficit.

"He was sitting over there watching everybody missing those high fastballs," said manager Davey Johnson. "He's a pretty good high fastball hitter, and he went up there and got it. The way that guy was pitching, that obviously was the big blow in the game."

The Orioles had been chipping away since the fifth inning, when they fell behind 6-1 and were in danger of ending a four-game winning streak. But Surhoff's two-out home run tied the game and set up a game-winning shot by Brady Anderson in the ninth.

"He had thrown me three fastballs the first time," Surhoff said. "I had swung at a bad one, a borderline one and another bad one. With a reliever, you don't always get another chance. I got another chance and I was just looking for the ball there."

Surhoff apparently is pretty good at taking advantage of second chances. He left behind a solid nine-year career with the Milwaukee Brewers for the opportunity to play on a winning team in Baltimore, and he has made a tremendous contribution to the Orioles' 9-1 start.

He's batting .378 with three home runs and seven RBIs, and playing so well at third base that the spring questions about his viability there have disappeared. Not bad for a guy who had gotten a reputation the last few years as something of a slow starter.

"I had three years in a row when I started slow," Surhoff said. "This year, I've been doing well and I feel good."

The crowd of 42,644 showed its appreciation with a warm ovation after Surhoff returned to the dugout in the eighth inning. He has endeared himself to Orioles fans in a hurry, making the kind of first impression that every new arrival -- especially in the free-agent era -- wants to make.

"That's nice, but not as important as you might think," Surhoff said. "I came here for the long haul, not just at the start. I hope to contribute all year long."

Surhoff did not leave Milwaukee mad. The decision to go was a difficult one, but the team he chose to go to may be more suited to his situation. He was a veteran player who had never been on a championship team. Now he is a pivotal player on a club that has given itself a big head start in the American League East.

"It seems to be a perfect place for a guy like B. J.," said Minnesota's Paul Molitor, who played with Surhoff for six seasons in Milwaukee. "Milwaukee messed with him the last couple of years and now he's made the decision to come here, and -- as you can see -- he looks like a perfect fit.

"They are just letting him play the game. He doesn't have any distractions. There was that one year [in Milwaukee] they tried to get him to sign a minor-league contract. They put him in some awkward positions. He's a guy you just have to let play."

Johnson realized that early on. He turned third base over to Surhoff during spring training and patiently waited for him to reacquaint himself with the position. Surhoff struggled a little early on, but he stayed with it and has played flawlessly there so far in the regular season.

"He's just been outstanding," Johnson said. "He's a gamer. He's always paying attention. He doesn't miss much. He's just totally into it over there -- 100 percent."

So good that all the attention has focused on his hitting. The Orioles knew that he was a solid run-producer. He drove in 73 runs in just 415 at-bats last year and could improve significantly on that in the well-appointed Orioles lineup.

"You can see why he's such a great hitter," Anderson said. "He really makes every at-bat count."

Pub Date: 4/14/96

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