In an Un­usual Feat, Gomez Shows Clout

Slap Hit­ter’s Grand Slam Pro­pels O’s

The Washington Post Sunday - - Wizards Insider - By Jorge Aran­gure Jr.

BAL­TI­MORE, April 14 — Nei­ther rain nor wind nor cold could stop Chris Gomez’s hard-hit ball to left field, which trav­eled slowly through the night sky, barely clear­ing the fence for the game-de­cid­ing grand slam in the sixth in­ning of Bal­ti­more’s 6-4 win Satur­day against the Kansas City Roy­als.

The ball was hit so high that seem­ingly any strong gust of wind or quick down­pour of rain could have knocked it down, and it seemed ages be­fore the ball landed in the stands. Gomez slowly rounded first base, and only a few feet in front of him was Kevin Mil­lar, who had to re­main close to first in case the ball was caught at the wall.

“I didn’t know if it was gone,” Mil­lar said. “With that weather, you don’t know.”

When it landed, the Ori­oles dugout erupted in cel­e­bra­tion, yet Gomez cir­cled the bases with a pas­sive ex­pres­sion.

“I try to keep it pro­fes­sional,” Gomez joked about his re­ac­tion. “I don’t want to wake any­body up. . . . I just sneak back into the dugout and hide out.”

The homer turned a 4-2 deficit into a 6-4 lead for Bal­ti­more. The grand slam was the first for Gomez since April 2004 and the sec­ond for the Ori­oles in as many games. Nick Markakis’s grand slam on Fri­day helped the Ori­oles to an 8-1 win.

Bal­ti­more evened its record at 6-6, the first time it has been at .500 since last April 28.

“We started slow in Min­nesota but we’re a way bet­ter team than that and we know it,” Ori­oles starter Daniel Cabr­era said.

The sur­prise was not that Kansas City’s bullpen had blown a lead — last year, the Roy­als had the worst bullpen ERA in the ma­jors, with the Ori­oles rank­ing sec­ond to last — but that it was Gomez who hit the big home run. He now has four home runs since 2005.

Gomez’s re­turn to the team this year had not been a cer­tainty. He missed most of the first half of last sea­son af­ter hav­ing his left hand bro­ken by a pitch from Detroit Tigers fire­baller Joel Zu­maya. Dur­ing his ab­sence, Bran­don Fa­hey es­tab­lished him­self as an ad­e­quate util­ity man — and a cheap one at that. Gomez fin­ished the sea­son with a flour­ish — a ca­reer-high 18-game hit­ting streak.

When Bal­ti­more traded for util­ity man Fred­die Bynum, it seemed to mean an end for Gomez’s ten­ure with Bal­ti­more. But the two sides con­tin­ued to ne­go­ti­ate dur­ing the off­sea­son and fi­nally agreed on a one-year deal worth $850,000.

He says of be­ing a util­ity player: “Get­ting your work in dur­ing bat­ting prac­tice on days when you’re not play­ing, that’s a big thing, just for the phys­i­cal side of it. When you’re able to do that, that gives you con­fi­dence men­tally that you’re pre­pared and ready to go.

“And just hav­ing the con­fi­dence that you can go out there ev­ery week or ev­ery two weeks and do the job, not bury­ing your­self if you don’t get an at-bat for a while, and say, ‘I have no chance.’ A lot of guys get into that rut where they’re de­feated be­fore they even get in there.”

De­spite game-long rain, the um­pires seemed de­ter­mined to play at least five in­nings be­cause the fore­cast for Sun­day called for heavy rain, which likely would erase the se­ries finale. The Roy­als don’t have an­other trip sched­uled to Bal­ti­more, mean­ing a makeup game would have to be planned for a mu­tual day off.

“There for a minute or two it was com­ing down pretty hard,” Ori­oles Man­ager Sam Per­lozzo said, “and I thought we needed to get some­thing done be­fore the fifth. If it got any harder than that I thought we would be in trou­ble.”

Cabr­era said the mound was “a lit­tle bit” muddy, which may have con­trib­uted to his er­ratic start. He al­lowed four runs — three earned — in five in­nings.

“That’s no ex­cuse,” he said. “It wasn’t the rain.”

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