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Devo injury proves quick reality check


The rap music blared from Arthur Rhodes' portable CD player. The lyrics were rather ominous, considering the day's events.

"The House of Pain is in effect, y'all. The House of Pain is in effect, y'all . . ."

Mike Devereaux appeared briefly with a towel wrapped around his left shoulder, then left to dress in another part of the clubhouse.

It had to happen sometime.

There's no escaping the House of Pain.

For all their troubles in April, the Orioles survived the month without placing a player on the disabled list for the first time since 1981. Now, suddenly, they're facing a major loss.

Devereaux strained neck muscles and sprained the joint connecting his sternum and his collarbone yesterday while diving for a ball hit by Kansas City's Phil Hiatt to left-center field.

The extent of his injuries won't be determined until today, but the only way Devereaux won't be placed on the 15-day disabled list is if he shows dramatic improvement overnight.

Don't count on it.

Trainer Richie Bancells said Devereaux was stiff and sore after yesterday's 4-3 victory over Kansas City. His strained neck could be better in a matter of days. But his sprained joint could take more time.

It's a daunting thought, particularly for a team that only now is starting to jell. Devereaux led the club with 107 RBI last season. He's batting .361 in his last nine games. The Orioles desperately need him to complete their recovery from a 5-13 start.

Indeed, for all the good that happened yesterday -- the two Harolds getting on base eight times, relievers Jim Poole and Todd Frohwirth working five scoreless innings, the Orioles overcoming a nine-strikeout performance by David Cone -- it all will seem rather empty if Devereaux goes on the DL.

The lingering image from yesterday's game isn't of Harold Baines' game-winning single. It's the sight of Devereaux lying flat on his back in the outfield, surrounded by trainer Jamie Reed, manager Johnny Oates, Brady Anderson, Cal Ripken, Harold Reynolds and Mark McLemore.

All it takes is one injury to wreak havoc on a club's master plan. The Orioles went through this the past two seasons with Glenn Davis, and also last year with Chris Hoiles. The loss of Devereaux, even for only two weeks, would be a severely damaging blow.

Just consider the options.

The Orioles likely would recall either Damon Buford or Mark Leonard, with Leonard probably rating the edge. Buford appears a more obvious choice -- he's a natural center fielder, and hitting 66 points higher (.313-.247). But Leonard, a left-handed hitter with power, could platoon with Jack Voigt.

Anderson would take over in center, as he did yesterday, and McLemore would continue playing every day in right. Buford would offer superior defense, but Leonard has nine extra-base hits and 16 RBI in 73 at-bats at Rochester. What the Orioles value most right now is run production.

Jeffrey Hammonds, of course, is a third possibility, but it's still too soon for the club to promote him. The entire situation underscores the need for the Orioles to trade for a veteran outfielder. They've already abandoned their original plan, demoting Chito Martinez and trading Luis Mercedes.

Even with Devereaux, the offense can be anemic. Without him, it would be severely tested. Oates batted him fifth to protect Baines yesterday, with Davis and Leo Gomez getting the day off. Voigt replaced Devereaux in the lineup, and went 0-for-4.

Luckily for the Orioles, Royals manager Hal McRae allowed left-hander Dennis Rasmussen to face Baines with two on and two outs in the ninth. His better option would have been to walk the Orioles' hottest hitter, summon right-hander Bill Sampen and force Oates to hit for Voigt.

McRae's poor managing saved the Orioles, but such twists of fate wouldn't compensate for the loss of Devereaux over the long haul. The pressure on Anderson and the 3-4-5 hitters would be immense. The Orioles would need Reynolds and Gomez to stay hot, and more production from Hoiles.

"It's not frightening at all -- you've got to play with what you've got," Oates said, taking the only approach possible. "You don't want to lose someone like Devo. He's a key ingredient, an important part of the ballclub. But I can't make him well if he's hurt."

It had to happen sometime.

There's no escaping the House of Pain.

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