Zaun's walk builds up to a run He scores winner without swinging bat

June 13, 1996|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

DETROIT -- Strange, but true: In a game that included 17 runs, 21 hits and 32 base runners, the key at-bat involved a hitter never taking a swing.

It happened with Orioles backup catcher Gregg Zaun at bat and the Orioles and Detroit Tigers tied at the start of the ninth inning yesterday at Tiger Stadium.

The Tigers' Richie Lewis threw five pitches, four out of the strike zone. Zaun drew a walk without swinging his bat, then scored from first base on Brady Anderson's double. The run was the game-winner in the Orioles' 10-7 victory.

"It's nice to contribute offensively, one way or another," said Zaun, who scored twice, reached base in all four at-bats and started two big innings while making a rare start because of a day off for regular catcher Chris Hoiles.

With the Orioles down two runs in the top of the third, he walked as the leadoff hitter and came around to score the first of the Orioles' five runs that inning.

He doubled in the fourth and reached base on a fielder's choice in the sixth before drawing the walk to lead off the ninth.

"My job [in the ninth] was just to get on base, period," Zaun said. "Once he threw me ball one I decided I had to sit there and make him throw me strikes. Having played so little, I'm not at a point where I should swing when I'm so far ahead in the count. He kept throwing balls."

His patience paid an immediate dividend when Anderson, batting next, worked the count full on Lewis and hit a drive into the right-field corner. Tigers right fielder Bobby Higginson was shaded toward center field and had to make a long run to collect the ball.

Running with the pitch because of the full count, Zaun scored standing up.

"I never hesitated sending him, [even though there were no outs], because the chances looked good all the way," third base coach Sam Perlozzo said. "Then the throw was up the line anyway."

The victory was the Orioles' sixth in the past eight games that Zaun, 25, has started. Overall, he has started 12 of the Orioles' 61 games in his first full season with them after 5 1/2 years in their minor-league system. The Orioles have a 7-5 record in his starts.

Although he is hitting only .226, he has managed to have an impact in a handful of games. He hit a home run against the Yankees, collected three hits in one game against the Brewers, and won a game against the Athletics with a single in the 10th inning. Yesterday, he scored the winning run.

"I'm excited to be here and I want to contribute," he said. "It's not easy to get into a comfortable rhythm with the bat or behind the plate when you're not playing that much, but I'm not complaining. I knew before the season started what my role would be on this team."

It appeared that job might be in jeopardy when the Orioles recently discussed a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals in which they would have given up Bobby Bonilla for catcher Tom Pagnozzi, who might have become the starter and relegated Hoiles to designated hitter.

"I read about that and I went and asked some people [in the front office] what that would mean for me, and they didn't really give me an answer," Zaun said. "It wasn't fair of me to ask, really, because the deal hadn't been made."

L It was never made, in fact, but Zaun still learned a lesson.

"I decided that I had to put that stuff out of my mind and concentrate on playing and catching and hitting," he said. "The other stuff will take care of itself. I'm better off not thinking about it."

Inconsistent playing time is his biggest obstacle now, and, oddly enough, he believes it affects him more on defense than offense.

"I'm pretty happy with the way I'm swinging the bat," he said. "But I feel like I'm inconsistent in my pitch selection and my work with the pitchers."

An example in yesterday's game, he said, was a home run that the Tigers' John Flaherty hit off Scott Erickson in the sixth inning.

"I knew Flaherty was cheating after a sinkerball, but I still called for one anyway," Zaun said. "That was a mistake. I feel like things like that are happening too often. It's not easy [for the catchers and pitchers] right now. We're battling. But we'll get it together. I'm convinced we will."

Meanwhile, Zaun will continue to get an occasional start and try to make something happen.

Like scoring the winning run without taking the bat off his shoulder.

Pub Date: 6/13/96

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