Ripken, Gomez cross signals, but not words


Designated hitter Ron Kittle turned to rookie third baseman Leo Gomez in the Orioles' clubhouse and smiled. "You know what my theory is," Kittle joked. "Knock in more than you let in."

Gomez made his third error in his eighth career chance last night, matching shortstop Cal Ripken's season total. But Ripken exonerated him for an equally embarrassing play that did not result in an error after the Orioles' 4-1 victory over Boston.

The ball in question was a popup by Jody Reed that landed just inside the leftfield line for a one-out double with the score tied 0-0 in the sixth inning. Gomez lost sight of the ball standing in foul territory, but Ripken, not 10 feet away, apparently thought he would catch it.

Ripken routinely makes such plays, but this time there were mitigating circumstances. When Reed scored on a two-out single by Wade Boggs, they took on greater significance. At the time starter Tom Bolton still had not allowed a hit.

"It was probably a combination of things," Ripken said. "Not being familiar with him, him not being familiar with me. With a two-strike count on Jody, I was kind of shaded up the middle. I didn't think he would pull the pitch.

"But he ends up pulling a popup down the line. Ordinarily that's the shortstop's ball. I would have to say, because we didn't make the play, I have to assume more responsibility than the third baseman. It looked like he was getting underneath it. But he ended up not seeing the ball."

"I tried to catch it, but I lost the ball," said Gomez, who went 0-for-3 with a walk. "Everyone was over there [including leftfielder Dave Gallagher]. But no one said anything. I thought he [Ripken] would get it. He thought I'd get it."

Gomez made his error in the fourth, on a routine grounder by Ellis Burks that went through his legs. As it turned out, both plays proved inconsequential. The Orioles rallied for four runs in the seventh to end their four-game losing streak.

A final word from Ripken on Gomez and the popup: "Speaking from experience, when you first come into the big leagues it's a little different -- a big-league stadium, upper deck lights. It's something you have to get used to. Those things happen."

* ONE HAPPY FAMILY: Robinson said yesterday he plans to keep all six of his coaches if he returns as manager next season. "If I'm back, they'll be back," he said.

Both Robinson and the club hold options on his rollover contract, but it is almost certain he will return. He has said he wants to manage "until the job is done," and club officials almost certainly agree.

That should be good news for coaches Al Jackson (pitching), Tom McCraw (hitting), Johnny Oates (first base), Cal Ripken Sr. (third base), Elrod Hendricks (bullpen) and Curt Motton (outfield).

Oates managed Rochester to its first International League title since 1974 before joining the Orioles two years ago. He is widely regarded as managerial material, and many believe he will be Robinson's successor.

It's always possible another club could contact Oates for a managing vacancy, but there aren't expected to be many openings this winter. If anything, more general managers appear to be in trouble than managers.

Robinson said he would not stand in Oates' way if he had a better job offer. "That would be great if he did," Robinson said. "I hope he does get an opportunity to manage. I wouldn't begrudge him that."

Oates, 44, has said many times in the past that he is happy with the Orioles, and that he is in no rush to leave the organization.

* WHY NOT ME? Robinson has said the Orioles need to add a hard-throwing lefthander in their bullpen, and Kevin Hickey said he could recommend an outstanding candidate for the job:

Kevin Hickey.

"I'm glad he has confidence in himself," Robinson said.

The fact is, Hickey might indeed return as one of the Orioles' two lefthanded relievers, even though he spent six weeks in Rochester. He again registered 88 mph on the radar gun Monday night.

There aren't many lefthanded relievers who throw that hard, and in his most recent outing the 34-year-old Hickey might have alleviated concern that he was losing arm strength.

He allowed six runs in his first two innings after returning from Rochester, throwing in the 83-84 mph range. But his fastball was as lively as last season Monday in his scoreless inning against Boston.

Why the sudden improvement?

"I was aiming the ball, not being aggressive," Hickey said. "Last year, it was boom, boom, right away. My arm feels better than ever. It was just a mental adjustment, getting back to being aggressive."

* BRING BACK SINGLETON! You haven't made it as an Oriole unless you've started at designated hitter. Robinson has tried 15 this season, two more than last year. The latest was Craig Worthington, who went 0-for-2 with a walk last night.

So much for variety: Orioles DHs are batting a league-low .212, with 17 homers and 57 RBIs. That averages to fewer than four RBIs per DH. Sam Horn has 34 RBIs batting in that spot. The other 14 DHs have combined for 23.

This year's complete list, in order of appearance:

Horn, Mickey Tettleton, Bob Melvin, Brady Anderson, Marty Brown, Randy Milligan, David Segui, Greg Walker, Chris Hoiles, Donell Nixon, Tim Hulett, Joe Orsulak, Kittle, Mike Devereaux and Worthington.

* AROUND THE HORN: Supreme Court nominee David Souter and baseball commissioner Fay Vincent watched last night's game with Orioles owner Eli Jacobs. No word on whether Souter is pro-choice on the issue of free agency.

Two key scouts will be missing when the Orioles hold organizational meetings tomorrow: Ed Farmer is awaiting a kidney transplant and Birdie Tebbetts is recovering from heart trouble. "They'll still have a lot of input," farm director Doug Melvin said. "They'll be available by phone."

Reliever Curt Schilling pitched a scoreless inning in his first outing since allowing Kelly Gruber's game-winning homer Saturday. Robinson paid Schilling a visit when he went 2-0 on his first hitter, but no harsh words were exchanged. "I just told him the situation," Robinson said.

Gregg Olson earned his 32nd save with a scoreless ninth, but naturally Dwight Evans was the one hitter he didn't retire. Evans hit a single, and is now 3-for-5 lifetime off Olson with two homers. Olson has allowed only three other homers in his career.

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