CLEVELAND -- Mike Devereaux ended the best year of his career in spectacular fashion, but sooner than anticipated and under less than ideal circumstances.
The Orioles center fielder, who has emerged as one of the leading candidates for American League Most Valuable Player, learned yesterday that he probably will have surgery on his left thumb Tuesday in Baltimore.
Devereaux suffered a torn ligament while making a diving catch of a fly ball hit by the Cleveland Indians' Jesse Levis in the 10th inning of the Orioles' 3-2 victory Thursday night.
The catch wouldn't have been possible if Devereaux hadn't hit a dramatic two-out, two-run homer to tie the game in the ninth inning.
"I was hoping it was just a little sprain and I'd be able to play [the last three games]," said Devereaux. "You always have to be positive."
But X-rays yesterday revealed more extensive damage. He will be examined Monday by Dr. Hugh Baugher; then a decision will be made about surgery. If, as expected, Devereaux is operated on, Tuesday will be a busy surgical day for the Orioles. Catcher Chris Hoiles will have his right wrist repaired, too.
"The only thing I can say is I'm glad it's not July," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. "Devo has done a great job for us all year -- I don't know what we would have done without him ."
The injury to Devereaux is not considered serious.
"He will be fine long before spring training," said trainer Richie Bancells.
"It looks like it will cost me a few golf dates," said Devereaux, "but that's about all. If I wasn't an athlete, it wouldn't be a problem. But I need it [the thumb] to grip the bat and ball."
Any number of circumstances could have prevented the injury -- starting with Devereaux's home run, which deprived the Indians of a 2-0 victory. And Devereaux revealed that, just before reliever Gregg Olson's pitch to Levis, coach Davey Lopes motioned the center fielder to change his position.
"Davey had just moved me [toward left-center field], which is the only reason I was able to make the catch," said Devereaux. "If I'd had enough time, I would've gone another couple of steps and been in a better position." Had he not moved, Devereaux not only wouldn't have made the catch, but he also most likely wouldn't have been close enough to dive for the ball.
The hesitancy came about because the Orioles were facing Levis for the first time. "It's always tough positioning yourself in September, because there are so many call-ups you don't know," said Devereaux.
"If I had looked at Davey a little earlier, I would've had time to get myself in position. As it was, Gregg was in his windup and I didn't get completely set."
Devereaux finished with a .276 batting average, 24 home runs and 107 RBI -- all career highs. "It was a satisfying year," he said, "but I know I can't stop now. I still want to get better. I can't promise that I will, but I can promise that I'll work just as hard -- and I've always thought of myself as a hard worker."