By any unit of measurement, O's Reboulet gives Johnson fits Bunting or going deep, role player trumps ace

October 06, 1997|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Facing Randy Johnson in Game 1 of the Division Series, Jeff Reboulet gave himself up with a two-strike bunt that moved runners into scoring position. In yesterday's rematch, he gave the Orioles an early lead.

Whatever it takes to mess with the Big Unit.

Again, the club's unheralded player contributed to Johnson's undoing, hitting a first-inning home run that started the Orioles toward a 3-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners that wrapped up the series in four games.

Is there an easy way to explain it? A career .246 hitter who batted nine points lower during the regular season, Reboulet continued to torment one of the most intimidating pitchers ever to toe the rubber.

Reboulet entered the series with 11 hits in 35 career at-bats against Johnson, a .314 average that included two doubles and an August home run. He had been 3-for-6 this season starting in place of Roberto Alomar, whose strained shoulder prevented him from batting right-handed.

It's just as well. Why risk Alomar's health when Reboulet keeps coming up big, and when manager Davey Johnson has enough confidence in him to write his name in the lineup?

"Davey believes in everybody," said Reboulet, who also bounced back to the mound and struck out looking before being replaced in the field by Alomar in the eighth inning.

"If you feel somebody's not behind you, then you're going to struggle. Davey's done a great job with everybody, getting them in, getting them some playing time. Everybody has to contribute."

"In a long season, you need those types of people," said general manager Pat Gillick. "There are times when your A team isn't going to be healthy and you need to have guys like Jeff as replacements. You can't be successful if you don't have a good bench, in whatever sport you're in. You've got to have good people who can step in at a moment's notice."

Forget that the utility infielder had only four home runs this season, increasing his career total to 13. Give him more games against Randy Johnson and he might chase down Roger Maris.

"He's got overpowering stuff, so you've got to look for a pitch in the strike zone and lay off the bad pitches, just like any other pitchers," said Reboulet, signed as a free agent in late January after five seasons in Minnesota. "You can't have a long swing against him. You have to be short and quick.

"You never feel comfortable against Randy Johnson. He's up there throwing a lot of different stuff. You just have to be ready."

Johnson went to a full count on Reboulet, then tried to come inside with a fastball. Reboulet launched it 374 feet over the wall in left field, whipping the Camden Yards crowd into a frenzy. The Mariners already were down 2-1 in the series. Now, they were down 1-0 after only two batters.

"The more pressure you can apply, the better off you're going to be," Reboulet said after being doused with champagne in the Orioles' clubhouse. "I felt like we needed to get ahead, and it was good we got ahead. Today was one of those days where I got lucky and was able to get a big hit for us.

"I just kind of looked for a good pitch to hit, just trying to get a strike and put the bat on the ball and take a good swing. I don't even know if it was in or out or where it was. I was just trying to react to it."

Because of the shadows crossing home plate, Reboulet said he was having some trouble picking up the ball. He was battling as much as batting, just as in the first game of the Aug. 15 doubleheader against the Mariners, when he homered on almost the exact same pitch.

"To be frank, I don't know how he hit it because he could hardly see out there in the first inning," Gillick said.

Randy Johnson said he thought he had struck out Reboulet earlier in the at-bat, even going into the clubhouse to check the tape.

"I don't mind giving up a solo home run to anybody," he said. "When you come up in a major-league game, you're capable of doing that. He's just as dangerous as Mark McGwire. The chances are just as good."

But still difficult to fully explain.

"You've got to be selective, but at the same time you've got to be aggressive," Reboulet said. "He's tough and you've got to be at your best."

Once again, Reboulet brought out the worst in Johnson.

Pub Date: 10/06/97

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