Hoiles powers O's past Boston Catcher's long HR sparks 6-3 win

Wells has strong showing

July 19, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- Benito Santiago was the first in line in the parade of possible successors considered by the Orioles' front office. The others, in no particular order: Pat Borders, Randy Knorr, Tom Pagnozzi, Santiago again, Charlie O'Brien, and Kirt Manwaring.

But Chris Hoiles, even after being passed through waivers, remains the Orioles catcher. Knowing full well the Orioles are trying to replace him, he continues to go about the business of finding his stroke for his usual second-half spurt of hits and homers.

What timing. Hoiles hit his 15th homer last night and drove in another run with a sacrifice fly, late-inning insurance in the Orioles' 6-3 win over Boston. The Orioles moved to eight games behind New York in the American League East and six behind the Chicago White Sox for the wild-card spot.

B. J. Surhoff also homered and had two RBIs, and David Wells (6-9) pitched 6 2/3 innings to pick up his first victory since June 30.

The Orioles' search for another catcher began about a month after Pat Gillick took over as general manager in the off-season, club officials believing Hoiles' ability to throw out runners probably wasn't going to improve because of an arthritic condition in his shoulder.

They talked to Santiago's agent seriously in January and February, but weren't able to guarantee Santiago regular playing time. They wanted to see what Hoiles could do after he arrived in training camp. As one source of the organization said, "A week into spring training, we knew Chris was going to have problems [throwing]."

The Orioles have tried to deal for Pagnozzi, Santiago and Manwaring since then, with no luck. Hoiles does his best to ignore all of it. "I can't worry about that," Hoiles said. "That's a decision that's completely out of my hands . . . All I can do is go

out and try to do my job. If I'm still here, I'm still here. If I'm not, I'm not.

"I know personally that what I can do is twice as good as anyone they're thinking about getting."

He certainly is when he starts hitting a homer a day. Hoiles has three homers in his last four games, and has at least one hit in 10 of his last 11 games. He's improved his average from .218 to .231 since July 1.

The telltale sign of his improvement, Hoiles says, is that he's driving balls to the opposite field. On July 7, the night before the All-Star break, Hoiles hit a homer to right-center field. Last night, his seventh-inning homer, which padded the Orioles' 3-1 lead, carried into the center-field bleachers, more than 400 feet away.

"Going up the middle and the other way, that's my swing," said Hoiles. "That's the swing I've been trying to find. I feel a lot better. I feel a lot more comfortable."

Typically, he's more comfortable after the All-Star break. Coming into this year, Hoiles had hit .256 before the All-Star break, .283 afterward. Last year, Hoiles batted .291 the second half, after batting .208 in the first half. What timing, when the Orioles are trying to catch up on the Yankees and Hoiles is trying to hang on to his everyday job.

"He's certainly picked it up a notch lately," said manager Davey Johnson, "which is definitely needed."

Surhoff was responsible for the Orioles' first two runs, on an RBI ++ single in the second and a bases-empty homer in the fourth. Bobby Bonilla drove home a run in the sixth with a sacrifice fly, and after Hoiles' homer in the seventh, the Orioles scored again on an error by Boston shortstop John Valentin, and they led 5-1.

A shortstop has committed an error in every game since Cal Ripken moved from shortstop to third, and both errors by the opposing shortstops -- Toronto's Alex Gonzalez and Valentin -- came on balls hit by Ripken. Cal's curse.

Ripken continues to play well at third; Manny Alexander's painful process of ridding his game of rust accumulated over the last three months also continues.

Ripken is 6 feet 4 with a great first step on defense, exceptionally soft hands, one of the most accurate throwing arms in baseball and instincts honed by years of experience. In other words, he may already be the best third baseman in the AL, and each game presents evidence to that fact. Ripken made several plays smoothly.

New shortstop Manny Alexander hasn't played regularly in more than three months, and each game presents evidence to that fact. He made a nice grab of a roller up the middle to end the third, fielding a chopper by Jeff Frye and throwing easily to first. But in the sixth inning he and second baseman Jeff Huson combined on a play bound for a blooper reel someplace.

Jose Canseco was on first with one out, and Tim Naehring hit a hard bouncer up the middle, to Huson's right. Huson did nicely to keep the ball in the infield. However, the grounder hit off his glove and rolled toward left field. Huson scrambled after the ball, and tried shoveling it to Alexander, who was anchored at second base.

The ball . . . slowly . . . rolled . . . past Alexander's glove.

Canseco, almost walking into second, was safe; Alexander probably could've come off the base, gloved the ball and gone back to second to make the force. Huson, probably frustrated with himself, slammed two hands to the dirt in frustration, his streak of 103 consecutive errorless games at second base at an end, 12 games short of Roberto Alomar's record.

Wells pitched out of the jam, however, as he had pitched out of major trouble in the fifth, when he limited the Red Sox to one run.

Alexander did come back to make a terrific play in the eighth, backhanding a grounder in the shortstop hole and making a strong throw to gun down Naehring.

Randy Myers pitched the last 1 2/3 innings for his 19th save, the first game this year he entered in the eighth inning to pick up a pTC save. He struck out four of the six hitters he faced, ending the game by getting Mo Vaughn and Canseco on called strikes.

Pub Date: 7/19/96

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