Mora has handle on hype, if not hand

THE BALTIMORE SUN

CHICAGO - No matter how many elements conspire to distract Orioles left fielder Melvin Mora, there's always the hand to occupy his thoughts and raise his concerns.

Being a first-time All-Star? He still worries about the hand.

Having all six children with him at the team hotel? He still worries about the hand.

Most players want to be on the field for the majority of the game and feed the competitive beast within them. Mora didn't seem to care if it stayed hungry.

Standing in front of his locker in the American League's clubhouse yesterday, Mora pressed a thumb against the spot on his right palm that has been sore for almost a month. He aggravated the injury while chasing a fly ball during Sunday's game in Oakland and slamming into the fence.

He still worries about the hand.

But he just needed his legs last night in the All-Star Game. Mora was used as a pitch runner for the Angels' Garret Anderson in the eighth inning and scored from third base on a double by the Blue Jays' Vernon Wells as the AL rallied to win, 7-6.

"I hope I get some rest so it can feel better." he said. "If I get a chance to have one at-bat, that's fine. It doesn't matter. But the bruise is still there. I don't want to get jammed."

A smile spreading across his face, Mora added: "I hope they don't put me in there for nine innings, because I don't want to face the closer."

Which one? The National League roster included John Smoltz, Eric Gagne and Billy Wagner. Pick your poison.

"Smoltz." he said.

Mora enjoyed the All-Star experience as much as he could between palm readings. His locker was situated beside Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada, both voted in as starters for the game. He kept looking around the room, soaking in as much detail as possible while trying to blend in with his more high-profile teammates.

"It's been crazy but fun." he said. "I've gotten to know a lot of people. It's great."

His time alone with his wife, Gisel, lasted about an hour at Monday night's All-Star gala at the Field Museum. They returned to their hotel room and chatted with Gisel's brother and sister - part of the six-member babysitting party - before retiring to bed.

"There wasn't too much to do in Chicago." he said.

Yesterday's activities included a stop at Niketown before heading to U.S. Cellular Field. The Mora family has a lot of feet to cover.

The quintuplets celebrate their second birthday on July 28, three days before the waiver deadline. Mora grimaces as if hit by another Greg Maddux fastball - the source of his bruised hand - when the word "trade" is uttered.

He remains one of the Orioles' most marketable players, gifted enough defensively to start at numerous positions and proficient enough at the plate to rank second in the American League with a .349 average. Contending teams want him, and the Orioles are listening to offers while stressing that he's not being shopped.

"It's something I can't control." Mora said. "When you have a good relationship with the Orioles, and you have your family there, it's hard if you have to go somewhere else. But it's a business."

His desire to remain with the Orioles is so strong, he became suspicious of AL coaches and players who greeted him the past two days. Maybe there's more to worry about than the hand.

"They say, "Hello, how are you doing?" I say, "Fine," but I'm thinking, "Don't tell me hello too much, OK?" I can't imagine myself with any other team, but sometimes you have to walk away."

Another good reason to visit Niketown.

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