Orioles manager Davey Johnson gave Jeff Reboulet a day off Saturday, then raised the possibility of resting him again last night at Camden Yards.
Reboulet, who has a slightly strained muscle below his rib cage, chewed on Johnson's suggestion, looked his manager in the eye and said, "Are you crazy?"
OK, he didn't put it quite like that. But he made his point.
"He said, 'I waited seven years for the chance to play, I can play through this little thing,' " Johnson recalled.
Reboulet remembered the conversation somewhat differently. "I think I said, 'I don't need a day off, I want to play,' or something like that," he said.
In any case, he played for the 13th time in 14 games as a replacement for the injured Roberto Alomar, and he contributed a single and another flawless night in the field as the Orioles beat the Angels, 2-1.
His injury? What injury?
"As a utility player, I really can't get hurt," Reboulet said. "I just can't."
That's the sound of a .248 career hitter who has never had more than 240 at-bats in a season; at age 33, having seldom been a starter, he isn't about to blow any chance to play.
"The first rule as a utility player is to be dependable," Reboulet said. "That means you need to be healthy, available and ready when needed, and it also means you need to produce. If you're not available, or if you don't produce, you're usually gone."
Reboulet has produced a lot in the three weeks since Alomar was injured. He is batting .295 with four doubles, six RBIs and a home run hit off Randy Johnson. He has laid down sacrifice bunts, gotten key hits and dirtied his uniform playing defense.
He will give the job back when Alomar returns in the next week, but Johnson said yesterday that Alomar might not bat right-handed for the rest of the season, meaning more at-bats for Reboulet down the stretch.
"I hope so, I like to play," Reboulet said. "But the bottom line is winning and we needed Robbie at full strength. Either way, I'm ready."
His durability (no career trips to the DL) was one of the assets that made him attractive to the Orioles last winter. After jettisoning Bill Ripken -- a debatable move given Ripken's dependability -- they brought in Reboulet and Kelly Gruber to compete with Manny Alexander for the utility infield job.
Six months later, Gruber is out of baseball, Alexander has been traded twice, Ripken has been on the disabled list in Texas and Reboulet is playing every day, however briefly, for the team with the best record in baseball.
"People ask if I expected it to work out like this," Reboulet said. "All I can say is I did expect to play for a winner. That's why I came. I thought this was a team that would appreciate someone who could do the little things. That's me. What I offer, I think, is I know how to play this game. I may not be a big stat guy, but I know how to get the job done."
He had spent all 11 years of his pro career in the Twins' organization, starting with a six-year apprenticeship in the minors. He thought he was a Twin for life after he hit .292 in 1995, but they let him go when his average dropped 70 points last year.
"I was comfortable there, the system was great for me and I thought I'd be back with them, but they brought me in and said, 'Well, we signed some other guys and told them we wouldn't bring you back,' " Reboulet said. "I didn't think they dealt up front with me."
He chose the Orioles from among the several teams that wanted him because he wasn't getting any younger and he wanted to win.
In fact, he wanted to win so badly that he took a pay cut, signed a non-guaranteed split contract (meaning he'd make minor-league wages if he wound up in Rochester) and came even though he knew he'd get far fewer at-bats than in Minnesota.
"There isn't much room to play behind Robbie, Cal and Bordick," he said. "But I wanted to play for a team that goes to the World Series."
He had played so little before Alomar's injury that he worried about losing his job.
"New team, no guarantees, not playing much," he said. "You can't help wondering at times. But I didn't dwell on those thoughts."
His patience paid off -- for the Orioles and himself -- when Alomar went down.
"I'm glad to come in and help," he said. "I can hit better when I play more consistently like this. It's tougher when you know that the four at-bats you get on a given night are probably the only four you'll get that month."
Even with this late rush, he might end up with his lowest at-bat total since 1994. But he's also probably headed for the playoffs for the first time. Which is better, more playing time or more team success?
"No contest," he said. "I love winning. I had my best individual year in '95, but it was no fun coming to the park because we were out of it. This is the opposite. Everyone is into it, the team is winning, the stands are full. I sign autographs and people say, 'Hey, nice bunt.' I love coming to the park."
Pub Date: 8/19/97