In an Unusual Feat, Gomez Shows Clout
Slap Hitter’s Grand Slam Propels O’s
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.”