Roberts Shows He Has The Power To Carry Orioles

August 23, 2009|By Peter Schmuck

For a few days, at least, the Orioles have jumped aboard the Brian Roberts Express and actually look like a major league baseball team.

Maybe that won't last through the weekend, but it should remind fans about what could be on the horizon and what Roberts means to the Orioles when all is right in his world.

This much should be obvious. The guy is one of those catalytic players whose energy ripples through the rest of the lineup. When his motor is running - and I mean really running - the rest of the team has no choice but to get on board or get out of the way, because something good is going to happen.

The past week has been classic. Roberts has turned on the power, hitting five home runs in the past six games. He hit two in Friday night's series-opening victory over the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field and launched a game-turning grand slam in Thursday's sweep-averting win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Orioles are not going to be able to depend on him for that kind of power production on a regular basis, but day in and day out he is a doubles machine who can also win a game with his legs or his glove.

Of course, there have been times this year when Roberts has looked as if his gearbox were stuck in neutral. He looked alternately discouraged and distracted, not anything like the firecracker leadoff guy who started carving out a place in the hearts of Orioles fans the day he arrived in the major leagues.

There were all sorts of theories about this, but the predominant theme among his message board critics was that he had grudgingly signed that $40 million extension because of the bad economy and didn't really want to be here because he had grown tired of losing.

That probably wasn't the real reason, but it sounded logical enough. I mean, why wouldn't Roberts be tired of watching Derek Jeter or David Ortiz starring in the playoffs every year? The Orioles haven't had a winning season since 1997, and they've never been competitive during Roberts' career in Baltimore. If you ask some people, he had every right to be discouraged or distracted or sleepwalking or whatever you want to call what he was doing until the light came back on.

He's only human, and losing season after interminable season would wear on anyone. Roberts made it known a year or two ago that he was becoming weary of the Orioles' inability to compete in the American League East. The team even came close to trading him to the Atlanta Braves at one point when it looked as if he might play out his contract and become a free agent.

Instead, he agreed this past spring to the four-year extension and said all the right things about being part of the team's latest rebuilding plan. It just didn't look for a while as if he believed it.

Now, we know there was more to it than that. The whole first half of the season was an uphill battle to get completely healthy. He came out of training camp with a sore left oblique and an upper-respiratory infection that returned and dogged him for a month at midseason. He also struggled with back spasms at one point and suffered a bruised shin in a May collision at second base with Toronto Blue Jays catcher Rod Barajas.

It was one thing after another, which might or might not explain a number of uncharacteristic on-field mistakes over the course of the season, but it should tell you that the guy didn't quit on his team - another popular theory rattling around the blogosphere. Even during his most difficult days, he put up solid numbers, and - trust me - he wouldn't be on his way to one of the highest all-time single-season doubles totals if he didn't put it all out there day after day.

Which brings us back to Thursday and Friday nights, when Roberts - less than two weeks removed from another nasty shin bruise that was bad enough to require X-rays - hoisted the Orioles on his shoulders again and carried them to back-to-back road victories.

He was interviewed by Amber Theoharis on MASN afterward and sounded like a guy who can see that the Orioles just might be headed for better days. He also sounded more like the team leader he needs to be if they are going to get there. Roberts is never going to be an in-your-face clubhouse enforcer, but when he's right he's clearly the guy who makes this team go.

It's nice to have that guy back.

Listen to Peter Schmuck weeknights at 6 on WBAL (1090 AM).

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