Clark unbroken in spirit despite thumb

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Veteran keeps perspective

Miller `stands behind' team

April 24, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

A photo is taped to the locker of Orioles first baseman Will Clark that shows the bone chips he had removed from his left elbow three years ago. All 24 of them. In vivid color.

It's not your typical Kodak moment, and certainly not intended for the squeamish, but the snapshot reminds Clark that the fractured thumb that forced him on the disabled list this week should be kept in perspective. He's been through worse.

Clark rejoined the Orioles before last night's game against Oakland, wearing a plastic splint on the thumb and feigning enthusiasm for another night's duty as cheerleader rather than protector of cleanup hitter Albert Belle. He clearly misses his former gig. So do the Orioles.

Clark was batting .370 with three homers and seven RBIs at the time of the injury, which occurred Sunday in Toronto when a sharp one-hopper from former Oriole Willie Greene struck the tip of his thumb, breaking it above the joint. He's eligible to come off the disabled list May 4, but wouldn't predict his return.

"I'm a wait-and-see guy. I don't give a forecast until I know what's going on in the future because I don't have a crystal ball, either," he said.

"This is tough to deal with. It's different when you're out there on the field and you're helping the team. But when you're sitting in front of the TV with some pompoms, you don't do a lot of good."

It also doesn't do much good to take a shot off your thumb. Clark knew there was a break the moment the ball ricocheted off his hand to second baseman Delino DeShields.

"When you hear a bone that goes snap ," he said. "It's all I could do to get back to the bag and take the throw."

Second time around

When rookie infielder Jesse Garcia was sent to Triple-A Rochester before the April 11 game against Toronto, the Orioles were 2-3 and far from being at a crisis point. He returned to the majors on Tuesday with the club in Tampa and in a violent tailspin.

"I never would have imagined this could happen with the team they've got, but we're dealing with injuries now that are a big blow to the team. Guys just have to step up a little bit more," he said.

Garcia appeared in the two games before last night, going 0-for-1 with a run scored. He hit .192 (5-for-26) with two doubles, two RBIs and two stolen bases in six games at Rochester before being recalled.

"I'm just here to fill a vacancy and do what I can to help us win. That's all I can do right now," he said.

Time to make a stand

With his team coming off a "road trip from hell," manager Ray Miller viewed last night's game as more than the start of a 12-game homestand. It also was a chance to show that "what's been going on isn't right, that we're better."

"I've pretty much stood behind these guys and I'm going to continue to stand behind them. I haven't bailed out on anybody yet and I'm not going to. We're in a very rough spot, but there's 140-some games to go," he said.

"I know fans here aren't happy, but nobody in the world is less happy than I am."

Ponson sterling, too

While most of the attention Thursday night fell upon Tampa Bay left-hander Tony Saunders, the Glen Burnie native who no-hit the Orioles for 7 2/3 innings, Sidney Ponson deserved his share of accolades for keeping his club in the game.

Ponson allowed one run and three hits in 5 1/3 innings. He often worked behind in the count, walking four and being yanked after 93 pitches, but it was a vast improvement over his past three outings. Ponson had given up six runs in one inning in his final exhibition appearance, then surrendered a combined eight earned runs and 10 hits in 7 2/3 innings in two starts.

Why the reversal in Tampa?

"I was staying back more. I wasn't rushing. I was concentrating more this time. I was more relaxed, not so tense," he said.

"I started thinking, `Why am I so tense?' Just do what I can do best, try to pitch and don't try to overthrow. Whatever speed it is, it is. Just try to locate the ball, and that was a big factor."

Miller would have preferred that Ponson throw more strikes, but he's not in a position to be too picky. Ponson joined Mike Mussina as the only Orioles starters not to allow a run through the first three innings. Mussina did the trick in a 1-0 victory over Toronto April 10 at Camden Yards.

"Sidney was very tentative the first two hitters," Miller said. "He got in a little bit of trouble, you saw him take a deep breath and he started going after people."

Around the horn

Have the Orioles become so desperate that they're placing calls to superheroes? Someone dressed in a Batman costume threw out the first pitch last night. He then summoned a vehicle resembling the Batmobile, and rode off the field. Does anyone know if Superman can hit with runners in scoring position? The start of the game was delayed 20 minutes because of rain, the third such occurrence at Camden Yards this season. Five of Matt Stairs' eight RBIs have either tied the game or put the A's ahead. Umpires wore Orioles jackets because their gear never arrived from Toronto.

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