NEW YORK - As the Orioles' utility infielder, Chris Gomez knows his starts will come sporadically. He appreciates each one, no matter the circumstances.
And no matter how many Cy Young Awards the other team's pitcher has won.
Gomez seemed to enjoy the challenge of facing New York Yankees left-hander Randy Johnson yesterday. It beat sitting on the bench, his only escape this season coming when he pinch hit for shortstop Miguel Tejada in the ninth inning of Friday night's win.
Writing out a lineup heavy in right-handed hitters, manager Lee Mazzilli started Gomez at first base and benched Rafael Palmeiro and Jay Gibbons. He also started B.J. Surhoff in left field over Larry Bigbie.
Palmeiro was 1-for-21 against Johnson in his career. Gibbons doesn't have an at-bat against him. Gomez, meanwhile, was 5-for-22 with an RBI before yesterday.
"You look at the numbers," Mazzilli said. "Guys like Gomez, they can get some at-bats against the left-handers. B.J. has a little more experience than Bigbie."
Batting eighth yesterday, Gomez went 1-for-2 with an infield hit and a bases-loaded walk in the fourth that gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead. They stayed ahead until the Yankees scored five times in the seventh for an 8-5 victory.
"It's a challenge, but it's a fun challenge," Gomez said of facing Johnson. "If he's not the best pitcher, he's one of the top two or three pitchers in the last 15 years. It's a lot of fun trying to do something off him, because if you do, it's that much better."
Gomez hadn't played first base in the majors until last season, when he appeared in 19 games with the Toronto Blue Jays, including 12 starts.
"A lot of them were back-to-back, so I was able to get fairly comfortable with it," said Gomez, who started at all four infield positions last year.
"There are subtle things you have to adjust to, like double-play balls and balls that are pretty much right at you. It's just so different. It's getting familiar with everything, really."
Gomez still is getting a feel for when to pursue a ground ball to his right and when to retreat to the bag and await the throw from second baseman Brian Roberts.
"That's a big one," he said. "As a middle infielder, you're trying to get everything. It's something that's just not in my training as a baseball player at this point."
Mora struggles on
Coming off a season when he batted a career-high .340, Melvin Mora went 0-for-4 yesterday to lower his average to .048. His only hit in 21 at-bats is an RBI double on Opening Day.
Given an ideal chance to break out yesterday, Mora struck out on three pitches with the bases loaded in the fourth inning. He grounded out in the ninth after Roberts led off with a double.
"He's just being a little anxious right now, that's all," Mazzilli said. "He's going to be the least of my worries offensively. Melvin is just a professional, quality hitter. He's going to hit."
Trying to break up a double play in the fifth inning, Alex Rodriguez inadvertently struck Roberts in the face with his right hand as he came out of his slide. The ball rolled into the infield grass, and Rey Sanchez scored to reduce the Orioles' lead to 5-3.
Trainer Richie Bancells applied pressure to the bridge of Roberts' nose and stuffed cotton up it to stop the bleeding. Roberts refused to leave the game, returning to his position with the cotton partially exposed.
"After I lost the ball, I didn't know what happened," Roberts said. "I just knew my face hurt."
Rodriguez checked on Roberts and apologized after the inning. "He didn't mean to do it," Roberts said.
One who got away
While reliever Jason Grimsley continues his recovery from ligament-reconstructive surgery in his right elbow, detached from the team at his home in Kansas City, Mo., the player traded by the Orioles to acquire him from the Royals, pitcher Denny Bautista, was registering his first major league win Friday night.
Bautista, rushed to the majors out of Double-A Bowie last season, held the Los Angeles Angels to one run in eight innings. He didn't walk a batter and struck out eight.
The right-hander drew rave reviews this spring.
"A 97-, 98-mph fastball with natural cut? That's not easy to square up," Houston Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell told The Kansas City Star. "He's got very good stuff. He throws four pitches. And if you can always reach back for the high 90s, that's not a bad thing to have."
A scoring change from Friday's game has removed an error from Tejada in the first inning, adding an earned run to Sidney Ponson's line.