ANAHEIM — Roberto Alomar was little more than the player to be talked about later when the blockbuster trade that sent the San Diego second baseman and Joe Carter to Toronto for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff was announced in December, 1990.
During the past couple of seasons, however, he has become a Toronto hero on a par with Maple Leafs' center Doug Gilmour.
This is not a position gained easily in a place where the puck will always reign supreme, but it's even more difficult on a baseball team such as the Blue Jays, with locker-to-locker superstars stacked in the clubhouse. Some solid defense at second and a .280 average weren't going to do it.
So Alomar earned his niche in Toronto with some truly remarkable performances, especially when it counted. In the 1991 American League championship series, he hit .474--.625 with runners in scoring position--and drove in four runs. He was most valuable player in the 1992 championship series with 11 hits, including two homers.
He did OK in the regular season, too, earning the team's player of the year honors both years with batting averages of .295 and .310 and a total of 102 stolen bases. He made the All-Star team both years and even picked up a Gold Glove in '91.
The ball-night crowd at Anaheim Stadium may not have been cheering much in the early going Wednesday as the Blue Jays took a 5-1 lead, but no one had to stay late to get an idea why Alomar is loved in Toronto.
By the end of four innings, he had slammed two towering two-run homers, singled and made two sparkling defensive plays to rob Angel catcher Greg Myers of hits.
He also played a major role in the bench-and-bullpen-clearing brawl that erupted in the sixth inning--without throwing a punch.
"They had been kicking our butt for three nights and there was a lot of frustration," Angel outfielder Stan Javier said. "We're playing pretty good baseball, but they're just swinging the bat the way I haven't seen too many teams swing the bat."
Former Angel Devon White opened the game with a single to center and while starter Julio Valera concentrated on keeping White close to first, Alomar worked the count to 3-2 before sending a fastball deep into the right-field seats.
In the second, Alomar made the first of two diving backhand stops to take hits away from Myers, this time throwing from his knees on the outfield grass.
He lined a single to right in the third and was out trying to go to third on Joe Carter's single when he stumbled rounding second. It was the only time he was crossed up on this night.
In the fourth, he deposited another Valera delivery in almost the same location as his first-inning homer.
Alomar was grazed by a Valera pitch in the sixth. It wasn't much of a blow, but plenty of blows were to follow.
"We weren't trying to hit him," Angel Manager Buck Rodgers said. "Alomar ran into a pitch he was trying to bunt. There was no intent."
Valera was gone--along with six players who had been ejected after the fight--by the time Alomar made his next plate appearance. But reliever Gene Nelson didn't have much better luck.
With two out and two on in the eighth inning, Alomar laced an RBI single to right.
So he finished the evening four for four with five runs batted in and a stolen base. He's hitting .393 in the last 13 games and leads the American League with 42 runs scored and is third in the league with 20 stolen bases.
The Angels may have a few bruises this morning from Blue Jay fists, but their slip out of sole possession of first place in the AL West can be attributed to the hands of Roberto Alomar.