KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Roberto Alomar trotted onto the field at Kauffman Stadium to a predictable chorus of boos yesterday. Just his luck that his return to the Orioles' lineup coincided with the Kansas City Royals home opener, so that he could be formally introduced to a hostile sellout crowd.
He handled it the same way he has handled all of the negative fallout since he spit on umpire John Hirschbeck in an uncharacteristic burst of temper at SkyDome in Toronto last September.
"It was nice to be out there," Alomar said. "It was good to be with the guys. I was glad to be back playing the game that I love. The fans are entitled to their own opinion."
Alomar knows it's going to take a long time to win over the millions of baseball fans who witnessed that ugly evening six months ago, but he also knows how to go about it. He returned to the Orioles' lineup after serving his five-game suspension and made significant contributions at the plate and in the field.
He hadn't taken live batting practice since spring training, but he had two hits and a sacrifice bunt in four plate appearances. He had not dived for a ball on the infield in months, but he made a spectacular diving play to rob Royals outfielder Tom Goodwin of a hit in the third inning, and he made another nice play later in the game to steal an infield hit from reserve catcher Sal Fasano.
"I thought he did pretty well," manager Davey Johnson said. "He didn't have any live BP for a week, but he got a couple of hits and he made a couple of tough defensive plays look easy."
Alomar surprised even himself when he made the highlight-film play on Goodwin. The ball was hit hard and it took a nasty hop after Alomar was in full flight, but he reached up and speared it behind his head.
"I don't know the ball kind of took a funny hop," he said. "I couldn't believe that I caught that ball. I just put the glove up. I couldn't even see it. I guess that's why you use a glove."
The Orioles ended up losing the game in the ninth inning -- an inning after Alomar left the game for a pinch runner -- but they gained back one of the best all-around players in the major leagues. The only question is when he'll be able to play at full capacity.
There were times during the game that he clearly was feeling the sprained ankle that kept him sidelined for most of the spring. He apparently aggravated the injury making the great play in the third, and there was one point later in the game when he made a false start at first base and grimaced noticeably as he turned back toward the bag.
"My ankle is not 100 percent," Alomar said. "It's maybe 85 or 90 percent. I went out and tried my best, but it's still a little sore. It feels real weak. I don't feel real strong, but I was able to play and I did a good job. My timing wasn't that good, but it was good to get some hits right away."
Alomar conspicuously avoided any reference to the incident that has spawned so much interest in him. He met with the media before yesterday's game and restricted his comments to broad generalities about the game and his return to the lineup.
He would not speak about the past, and even declined to comment about his workout schedule during the suspension. He had spent the previous week staying in shape at the club's minor-league facility in Sarasota, Fla.
"It was just nice to see him on the bus today," Johnson said. "It's nice to have him back. I missed him. I like having him in the lineup, and I think he's a fine human being."
Pub Date: 4/08/97