Taking care of business Alomar: Like few others, the Orioles' second baseman is able to concentrate on his job and then come through.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

These are some of the things Roberto Alomar wasn't thinking about when he stepped in to hit in the ninth inning Saturday, the Orioles down 3-2, two outs and two strikes. These are some of the things he wasn't thinking about before he hit the game-winning home run three innings later.

He wasn't thinking about the fans, with fury in their voices, taunting him. He wasn't thinking about what would happen if he struck out to end the game. He wasn't thinking about whether the umpires overseeing the game might call him out at every opportunity.

Alomar was thinking about hitting the ball, the ball thrown by Cleveland Indians right-hander Jose Mesa. "I just went out there to get a hit," Alomar said afterward. "I hit the ball hard."

There have been examples of players affected by the collective screams of the crowd. Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Burt Hooton couldn't throw strikes and was jeered off the mound by Philadelphia Phillies fans during the 1977 playoffs. Jack McDowell heard boos at Yankee Stadium last year and responded with an obscene gesture.

What they heard was nothing like what Alomar heard. The fans' invective directed at Hooton and McDowell was professional. What they yelled at Alomar was personal.

But somehow, Alomar concentrated on the game and shut them up with his bat.

Orioles manager Davey Johnson said: "Robbie is the kind of player that reminds me of players who are able to write their own script. Frank Robinson is one, and Hank Aaron is another that comes to mind."

Padres right fielder Tony Gwynn had his own playoff game to attend to Saturday and was on the field when Alomar, an old friend from when the two played together in San Diego, hit the home run. But Gwynn did get to watch Alomar's game-tying single.

"He's got the whole world beating down on him," Gwynn said yesterday, remembering Alomar's hit. "Everybody's hating his guts, he's getting booed by everyone and he goes out there and gets it done. You know, when he hit the single, he didn't even look that happy. He had that look on his face like he knew he was going to do the job.

"People who know him know that what he did in Toronto" -- spitting in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck -- "is so unlike him. But people who know him know he has the ability to block out all of that and take care of business."

Alomar's father, Sandy Alomar Sr., played in the majors during the spring and summer and played winter ball in Puerto Rico, with Roberto tagging along as a child. Gwynn said this is where Roberto Alomar's confidence comes from. Alomar was always around baseball stars, and never knew what it was like not to fit in. He was always the best player in his age group and never knew what it was like to fail. He was always the best, always expected to be the best.

"He is the only player where, the first time I saw him -- he was 18 years old -- I knew he was going to be a great player," Gwynn said. "He could do everything. He could hit and run and, right then, he was already the best defensive second baseman in the game. Ryne Sandberg was winning Gold Gloves, but Robbie was better than he was."

Two years later, Alomar was in spring training with the Padres, but was sent to the minors. Gwynn found him in a room with his father, "So I could give him the typical veteran-to-younger-player speech. You know -- the younger player says, 'I'll go down and do my work, and I'll get back up here.'

"Robbie wasn't having any of that. He was furious. He was saying, 'You cannot tell me I'm not a better second baseman. I can hit better,' all of that. I've never seen that before.

"Two weeks later, he was in the big leagues, and he's been here ever since. He's always had that kind of confidence in himself."

Former All-Star shortstop Garry Templeton used to chide Alomar on the team bus or plane about what he was wearing, Gwynn recalls, and even at the age of 20, Alomar would not take it.

"He'd go right to the ability," Gwynn said. "He'd say, 'I'm hitting .300 and you're hitting .240.' He'd go right to the numbers. He was absolutely sure of himself."

Detroit Tigers general manager Randy Smith worked with the Padres in 1990, when San Diego traded Alomar to the Blue Jays, at the age of 22. After the deal was announced, Smith ran into Pat Gillick, then general manager of the Blue Jays.

Gillick asked Smith, what do you think?

"I think," Smith said, "that you just traded for a Hall of Famer."

Smith said yesterday: "To me, you're talking about a really special talent. He can do just about anything he wants to do on the field."

Gwynn watched Game 3, the first day the Cleveland fans booed Alomar, and he said it took Alomar a few at-bats to adjust. Now that Alomar understands what the parameters are -- the fans are going to boo him, going to call him names -- he will thrive.

"I look for him to be a major cog in this series," Gwynn said. "It's going to be unbelievable, in New York, the way the fans will get on him."

Like Johnson, Gwynn said there are only a few players who can rise to the occasion. Barry Larkin of the Cincinnati Reds, Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants. Alomar.

"By watching them play, you can tell they've already got everything figured out," Gwynn said. "They know what they have to do, and they do it."

Hirschbeck charged into the Orioles' clubhouse on Sept. 28, threatening to kill Alomar. Four hours later, Alomar hit the extra-inning home run that clinched the playoff spot for the Orioles. A week later, after a week of being Public Enemy No. 1, Alomar beat Cleveland in Game 4.

Alomar said yesterday: "I consider myself a good person, and like I said, people make mistakes in life. You do what you have to do when you make a mistake. I apologize to everybody.

"Now, I have to go on with life. I have to go on with baseball."

That's bad news for the Yankees.

Pub Date: 10/08/96

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