Recharged, Sosa hopes for power surge


THIS WAS his moment, especially on a night when the Orioles did not want to be shut out by the Red Sox again. It was a chance for Sammy Sosa to dig himself a little deeper into the skin of the fans of his new team.

Two outs, bottom of the eighth, the Orioles trailing 1-0 and his buddies, Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada, on first and second, Sosa was at the plate.

On a 2-0 count, he took a wicked swing that produced a loud "ohhh" from the crowd. Maybe ol' Sammy was due ... Or maybe not.

On the next pitch, Sosa slapped a grounder back to the mound. Inning over.

If the new town is eager to dump on Sosa for his lack of power so far this young season, they've been held in check. Sosa has had a part in that, too. He had two fine defensive plays last night, leaping to snare a David Ortiz fly ball at the wall in the eighth and then diving to rob Edgar Renteria of a single in the ninth.

Of course, the Orioles did not take on the Sammy Sosa Reclamation Project for him to be their defensive stopper. The O's could have used a lot more production last night, not just from Sosa, but from everyone, from Tejada to Rafael Palmeiro to Brian Roberts to Larry Bigbie.

The Red Sox came to town and sucked the air out of Camden Yards, forcing the Orioles to squander two good starts by Bruce Chen and Rodrigo Lopez, but Sosa is working hard to fit in.

He had no comment about two questionable pitching decisions by Dusty Baker yesterday that helped sink the Cubs in St. Louis.

Talk about swinging and missing. There's no love lost in that failed relationship, which is a big reason why Sosa is here.

As for the news that Cubs shortstop Nomar Garciaparra is out for two to three months with a torn groin muscle, Sosa was very sympathetic.

"I know when he came over he was happy because he changed teams," Sosa said.

Maybe Sosa was practicing a little revisionist history. Garciaparra, the Boston star, was said to be stunned and depressed for the first week after his trade in midseason, even if Garciaparra later came to appreciate the change of scenery, a fresh start, less pressure, different expectations.

Sound familiar? This is what Sosa sought in his less-than-scenic bid to get out of Chicago.

In the celestially strange orbits of star-crossed baseball superstars, Sosa and Garciaparra did indeed cross paths as they came to share that most infamous of team sports' categories: addition by subtraction.

Garciaparra sealed his fate in Boston when he turned down a four-year, $60 million offer in the spring of 2004. His life would take a turn, even if now, as far as career security, it was a very questionable series of events.

Sosa, so far, does not appear to be headed to such a fatally altered career path.

Sure, life is not as it used to be for Sosa. The clubhouse he ran and the city he owned are no longer his domain. The media crush that coveted his every moment is no longer in tow. The home run aura he possessed and projected ... this, too, faded.

"It's early," he said a few days ago, walking down the tunnel.

Instead of projecting the sulking image of a power hitter lost, Sosa is calm. He is lashing out his fair share of solid hits, including hit No. 18 last night.

He has two homers, but prefers to look at the bright side, which for the Orioles is leadoff hitter Roberts, who leads the team with six homers.

"I tell him if he keeps on like that, he might hit 70," Sosa said last night, naming the number that used to be his seasonal goal back when he was the only player to ever have three 60-homer seasons.

"Everything he orders, everything he eats, I'm going to eat."

But Sosa doesn't simply relay the one-liners he's dropped on Roberts. There is genuine praise.

"Hey, I'm impressed the way he's playing," he said. "He hasn't missed a pitch yet. For me, to see the way he can hit and play for us, I'm very impressed."

Yesterday, with batting practice called off because of some drizzle, Mora and Tejada were talking about batting stances with Sosa.

Sosa sat and watched quietly, shook his head, listened. The circus-act antics he puts on for the crowd and cameras were nowhere to be seen. The kiss, kiss, thump, thump sign language he has left for his teammates.

Maybe Sosa is happy to be rid of the expectations and the persona as much as Chicago was happy to be rid of him.

Yesterday, Sosa said he told Roberts that even when the media attention and crowd cheers are for you: "It's hard, but you've got to keep hitting."

It's clear that Sosa has settled comfortably into the mix of the Orioles' nucleus of impact players, even if they failed to dent Matt Clement and the Red Sox for a run or a win. Sosa has even let manager Lee Mazzilli drop him to No. 5 in the order at times, without complaint.

"I'm feeling good," Sosa said.

Better yet, he's acting good. Any homers would now be a very welcome bonus.

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