Walton drives home a point or four He makes his playoff case with two two-run homers

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

September 29, 1997|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

MILWAUKEE -- Viewing the last game as a last chance, Jerome Walton stepped up with the biggest offensive performance of his nine-year career.

Removing any lingering doubts about being included on the 25-man postseason roster, Walton homered in the second and fifth innings and drove in four runs. It was his first multi-homer game.

"I was just trying to see the ball and hit it," said Walton, who came into the game 5-for-34 (.147) since being activated Sept. 1. "I was talking to [hitting coach] Rick Down earlier, telling him that I was starting to jump at the ball. He told me to approach the ball slowly and it paid off."

He wasn't the only right-handed hitter to shine as Davey Johnson tested out what could be his lineup against left-hander Randy Johnson in the opener of the Division Series in Seattle.

Right fielder Eric Davis singled twice and stole a base, making him 6-for-9 with a home run over the weekend.

Jeffrey Hammonds was in left field, only his second start since Monday, and hit a 414-foot homer in the fourth inning.

Jeff Reboulet, who was 3-for-8 with a home run against Johnson this year, started at second in place of Roberto Alomar and doubled in a third-inning run.

And then there was Walton, who appears to be one of the 15 position players, along with 10 pitchers, Johnson will carry into the postseason. Tony Tarasco and Rick Krivda are expected to be named the two alternates.

"I guess it was a tough decision between me and Tony," Walton said of the playoff roster. "He's been here the whole season. But I think the only reason he won't be on the roster is because of all the left-handed pitching we'll be facing. I just wanted to show Davey I was ready to play and really wanted to be on the postseason roster. I'm not holding anything back now. I'm going out and playing hard, and I'm going to let it all hang out."

Johnson said he will meet again with general manager Pat Gillick on the way to Seattle and probably wait until tomorrow to announce the roster.

Backhanded compliment

Reboulet added a dash of flair to the game in the fourth inning, making a play usually not associated with the steady but unspectacular infielder.

Reboulet ranged up the middle to backhand a bouncer from Dave Nilsson, then flipped the ball behind his back to shortstop Mike Bordick, who gathered it on one hop for the force and threw late to first. Reboulet tried to stifle a grin as he returned to his position.

"I definitely didn't plan it," he said. "The ball took a pretty hard bounce and went harder and faster than I expected. I've never done that before."

Reboulet said he didn't receive any ribbing from his teammates. "I guess if you screw it up, then they get all over you."

'Everybody's contributed'

Johnson said he's proud of the way his players hung together in the face of adversity this year.

'Everybody's contributed'

I think everybody feels like a big part of this club," he said.

"A lot of times it's not just, 'Do you have good players?' It's 'Do you play good?' And this club is very good. It's been hard to read sometimes because sometimes it looks like we couldn't beat the last-place club, and other times it looks like we could beat anybody who comes out. It is a unique club."

One that forced Johnson to use his bench more than he had anticipated, especially for key players like Davis and Alomar.

"Actually, they've lost about 160 games total," he said. "I only had one utility player at the start and that was Reboulet, and he played very well in Alomar's absence. Hammonds did a great job playing center field, playing right field, playing all the outfield positions. That was something I wanted to see happen with him.

"Like I've said all along, to be a championship club you have to have a good bench and a good bullpen. And everybody talks about starters. This year, our starting corps was better than last year. We lose a [Rocky] Coppinger and [Scott] Kamieniecki comes in and was a lifesaver. We still didn't really establish a fifth starter. But [Rick] Krivda at times pitched well and Nerio Rodriguez, too.

"As you go through each year, you try to feel like you've improved the ballclub from the previous year. Your building blocks are going to make it easier for you to improve the next year. And we definitely have areas we can improve in."

Speed game limps home

The addition of Davis, along with the return of Alomar and Brady Anderson, was supposed to ignite the Orioles' running game. But the blueprint was torn to shreds by injuries and illness.

"We have zero team speed again," Johnson said. "We had more team speed last year. I bet we stole more bases last year [76] than this year [63]. I can't even start a runner because I'm afraid either the groin or the ankle or the knee's going to go.

"There have been times when I've had one hand behind my back, trying to figure out whether we should roll the dice right here and then worry about not having a guy for two or three more weeks."

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