KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Rookie Orioles left fielder Jay Gibbons will undergo surgery tomorrow and miss the remainder of the season after doctors in Baltimore yesterday determined the team's home-run leader fractured a hamate bone in his right hand.
Gibbons will be examined further by hand specialist Dr. Frank McCue at University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville, Va., tomorrow. Vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift said last night that surgery is expected that day.
The diagnosis surprised some in the clubhouse, including manager Mike Hargrove, who thought Gibbons had suffered nothing worse than a cartilage tear in his right wrist while swinging in Saturday's 2-1 loss to Toronto.
"We weren't expecting a hamate. I thought it was a cartilage problem," said Hargrove, who, when asked if surgery was anticipated, said, "I would think so."
The hamate, a small bone at the base of the hand, is typically removed when fractured.
Hitters including Cleveland Indians first baseman Jim Thome and former Atlanta Braves third baseman Bob Horner had similar surgeries with varying results.
Thome was bothered during the 1996 postseason and needed regular cortisone injections in order to play in the American League Championship Series. Horner was considered one of his era's most intimidating power hitters before complications from the injury curtailed his career. Thrift projected that Gibbons possibly could return in time to play winter ball.
Gibbons, 24, had not suffered a serious injury in three minor-league seasons. He has had wrist discomfort for much of this season, which partially accounts for his sporadic playing time even in the midst of a recent power surge.
Gibbons leads the Orioles with 15 home runs while compensating for a .236 batting average with a team-high .480 slugging percentage. Nearly half (25) of his 53 hits have been for extra bases. Before the injury he was in a 6-for-28 skid with one RBI in his past 10 games. Gibbons - the AL rookie leader in home runs - homered in seven of 15 games before his recent drought. His 15 home runs are the most by a player the season after being selected in the major-league draft since Roy Foster hit 23 for the 1970 Cleveland Indians.
"I thought he'd gotten enough at-bats where missing the last month and a half isn't disastrous. Obviously he could've used the extra 100-150 at-bats, but it's not a wasted year," Hargrove said.
Rookie outfielder Larry Bigbie made it to Kansas City yesterday. Thankfully, neither a passport nor a birth certificate was required for entry.
Bigbie received an education in international travel when the Orioles attempted to recall him Sunday. Having been optioned on Saturday to make room for first baseman David Segui, Bigbie returned to Baltimore to collect his belongings and head to Triple-A Rochester.
Saturday's injury to Gibbons, however, forced a change in plans and Orioles phoned him late that night to bring him back.
When Bigbie went to the Air Canada counter at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Sunday morning, he was asked for either a passport or birth certificate. Since the Orioles typically fill out a customs form when traveling on a team charter, Bigbie brought neither.
"Coming down [from Toronto] was no hassle," Bigbie said last night. "I didn't think going back would be, either. But I guess so."
A service representative told Bigbie he could not purchase a ticket without proof of citizenship. He tried to phone Orioles traveling secretary Phil Itzoe only to realize he had left his cell phone in a cab. By the time his phone was found, there was no way Bigbie could have made Sunday's 1 p.m. start, so he met the team yesterday here. He did not start against Royals left-hander Chris George.
The Orioles remain vague about when shortstop Mike Bordick will return from his rehab assignment. Bordick has played at Bowie and Delmarva and is scheduled to report to Frederick today. Hargrove said he was unsure "when or if" Bordick would play for the first time since separating a shoulder on June 13.
Around the horn
Hargrove reiterated that current plans do not call for transplanted starter Willis Roberts to be moved into the closer role anytime soon, though Hargrove conceded the possibility exists before the end of the season. The rookie right-hander remains in limbo since being bumped from the starting rotation to make room for Calvin Maduro. Roberts made a relief appearance Friday night in Toronto. Before moving into the starting rotation April 20, Roberts was 1-0 with a 1.04 ERA in six relief outings. ...
Current closer Buddy Groom ranks eighth among AL relievers with 1.73 walks per nine innings and seventh with 9.3 runners allowed per nine innings. ... Jeff Conine leads the Orioles with 28 multi-hit games but Melvin Mora, who entered last night hitting .260, is close behind with 25 multi-hit outings. Mora, however, ranks only eighth on the team with seven multi-RBI games. ... Recently acquired middle reliever Kris Foster is the 14th rookie to appear on the Orioles roster this season and becomes the eighth player to make his major-league debut in 2001.