Pinch hitter surprises Berroa 'Good RBI man,' he was 'so mad' at Thursday move

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW YORK -- Geronimo Berroa said he was "the first one to be surprised" when manager Davey Johnson removed him for a pinch hitter with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth inning of Thursday's game against the New York Yankees.

With right-hander Jeff Nelson on the mound and the Orioles leading, 4-2, Johnson began a series of moves by calling back Berroa and sending in Roberto Alomar, who had been unavailable because of a strained groin muscle. When Yankees manager Joe Torre countered with left-hander Graeme Lloyd, Johnson batted Jerome Walton for Alomar. Walton, who had flown to Atlanta for a relative's funeral and didn't arrive at the stadium until the fourth inning, grounded into a double play.

"I was at home plate, I was ready to go hit," said Berroa, who was 2-for-3 with an RBI. "I think he called the umpire, or something. The last thing I've got in my mind is he's calling for a pinch hitter. I've hit good with men in scoring position all my life. This is the first time I've had this happen.

"I didn't say anything. I took off my helmet and came in. But I don't like that. I was so mad because this has never happened to me. Now, I know if it's the ninth inning, he might pinch-hit for me."

He didn't three weeks ago at Camden Yards, when Berroa struck out looking against Anaheim right-hander Shigetoshi Hasegawa in the ninth inning with the bases loaded, two outs, the score tied and left-handed hitter Harold Baines on the bench.

Johnson explained Thursday's move by saying Berroa had poor numbers against Nelson, and he was going to replace him in right field anyway. Plus, he's trying to work Alomar and Walton back into the flow.

"Obviously, if it happens again, it's not going to bother me because I know he's going to do it," Berroa said. "If he does it again, there's nothing I can do. I've got to come back to the bench. He's the manager. He's the one making the decisions."

There was no sign of a pinch hitter last night as Berroa played an active role in the slugfest, going 3-for-5 with three runs scored. Acquired from Oakland on June 27, Berroa is batting .359 in the past nine games. He has 15 RBIs in his past 20 games and is hitting .289 overall with 23 homers and 81 RBIs.

"I was struggling early when I got traded," he said. "I was hitting real bad and he never pinch-hit for me. I was fine. So why did this happen to me? I'm hitting good now. I didn't think it was going to happen, but it happened.

"Nobody has pinch-hit for me, ever. If you get over 80 RBIs every year, that's because you're a good RBI man."

Mathews working out kinks

Where does a pitcher go when his mechanics fail him? When comfort on the mound eludes him? When he can't remember the last time he left a game feeling good about himself?

For Terry Mathews, it was straight to the bullpen Thursday night, during the seventh inning of the Orioles' 5-2 victory at Yankee Stadium. After he already had pitched.

With Jesse Orosco warming up beside them, Mathews asked bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks to dissect the right-hander's release point and balance.

"He had lost his balance and couldn't use his upper body the way he should," Hendricks said. "I told him, 'I'm standing here and I don't hear a sound coming out of your arm. There's no arm speed, which means when the ball reaches home plate, it's flat.' There's still some things that need to be done, but I didn't want to do it all in one day."

Said pitching coach Ray Miller, who approved the session: "They tried shifting his weight a little different in the set position so he's back longer. For whatever reason, he's committed to the plate the minute he picks his foot up."

Mathews has allowed 11 earned runs in his past 14 innings, his ERA soaring from 3.24 to 4.20.

"Elrod was telling me I was getting behind the ball instead of on top of the ball, and it was taking me a slight adjustment period coming into the game," said Mathews, who lost twice during the Orioles' five-game skid that ended Thursday.

Johnson could have used him Wednesday in Florida, again having to dig deep into his bullpen, but resisted because he believed Mathews needed the rest after pitching four times in six days.

"Actually, I need to pitch more to find that groove," said Mathews, who wasn't among the four relievers used last night. "My job is to be able to throw every day. My arm is capable of doing that. It's my job to make sure the other guys don't need to be used."

Maybe avoiding another night on the steep mound at Pro Player Stadium was a good idea, though. It's being blamed for Alan Mills' pulled right groin muscle and Armando Benitez's sore back, and the Orioles plan to make a formal complaint to National League president Leonard Coleman.

"I was getting to where I needed to be," Mathews said, "and it definitely was different throwing in Florida because that's where the problem is, staying back, and that mound pushed you forward."

Rhodes, Benitez take seat

Johnson said Benitez and Arthur Rhodes weren't available last night. Benitez last pitched on Wednesday, retiring both batters he faced in the eighth inning before leaving with back stiffness. Rhodes came in Thursday night in the seventh, after Mathews put the first two batters on, and struck out Derek Jeter and Chad Curtis, then retired Bernie Williams on a fly ball.

Rhodes still appeared to be bothered by a strained muscle on his right side, but Johnson said he didn't think working an inning aggravated the injury.

"He's pitched with it for a while," Johnson said.

Around the horn

There were 394 pitches in the game. Not only did Hideki Irabu allow nine runs, six earned, he also made an error, two wild pitches and failed to back up third.

Hits and misses

On the field: One night after Jeffrey Hammonds charged Joe Girardi's single in left and threw out Paul O'Neill at the plate, left fielder B. J. Surhoff ran down Tim Raines' single down the line and threw him out at second. The ball had caromed off the wall toward Surhoff.

In the dugout: The Yankees' posted lineup had to be taken down in the Orioles' clubhouse after some late changes prompted by a broken bone in Girardi's hand. Girardi was penciled into the No. 2 spot in the order, with shortstop Derek Jeter batting eighth. Jeter moved up to second, with catcher Jorge Posada hitting eighth.

In the clubhouse: "No win is ugly." -- Rafael Palmeiro, on taking 4 hours and 22 minutes to defeat the Yankees.

Pub Date: 9/06/97

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