B. Ripken's stand: big on defense Glove work shows why he keeps starting job

March 21, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- On a day when big brother hit his first home run of the spring and drove in three runs, the other Ripken stole the show yesterday.

While Cal took advantage of high winds that favored the hitters and raised his spring batting average to .438, brother Bill sparkled at second base.

The younger Ripken demonstrated why the Orioles have to tread cautiously in any trade talks involving a second baseman. Anything less than a .300 hitter or a proven leadoff man in exchange could disrupt what might be the club's strongest asset -- defense.

Playing under less than ideal conditions, the Orioles improved their exhibition record to 12-3 by beating the Toronto Blue Jays, 9-5. The win was the eighth straight for the Orioles, a spring club record, according to the team's public relations department.

Despite the impressive offensive numbers, the Orioles won this game with defense as much as anything. And Bill Ripken was in the middle of most of the good things that happened.

In six innings, the second baseman flawlessly handled seven chances -- at least four of which were crucial in thwarting potential scoring chances. Ripken made two spectacular diving plays -- catching Derek Bell's looping liner up the middle in the second inning, then spearing a hard grounder off the bat of Eddie Zosky two innings later.

In the fifth, Ripken unleashed a perfect relay throw to get Rob Ducey trying to stretch a leadoff double into a triple.

Overlooked in the flurry was a play in the first inning that is generally taken for granted. On what looked like a routine sacrifice fly to left, Brady Anderson relayed to Cal, who threw to Bill, who tagged out Turner Ward for a double play before Rance Mulliniks crossed the plate with what should have been the game's first run.

Nobody in the game makes a tag quicker than Bill Ripken, and it was a factor in the play. "He does that even better than his brother -- and his brother makes the tag awfully good," said Cleveland scout Tom Giordano, the former Orioles scouting director who was in the stands.

Bill Ripken's defense overshadowed the fact that he went 0-for-3, dropping his preseason average to a paltry .143 (in 28 at-bats).

"That's his way of driving in runs for us," said manager John Oates. "He knows he has to make perfect plays, he knows he has to dive for balls, he knows he has to make perfect relay throws.

"Our defense played very well today -- and it could have been better. There were some other balls that could've been caught -- but overall I'd say we played very well. The wind makes it very tough; I'd rather play in the cold than the wind."

Last year, Bill Ripken missed 58 games, most because of a bulging disk and a strained rib cage muscle. Even when he was in the lineup, he was generally less than 100 percent. But he knows that's not enough to pass off a .216 average.

"Blaming it on injuries just isn't going to cut it," said Ripken. "That doesn't work.

"Last year I think I had some mechanical flaws, which I'm trying to overcome this spring. The way I look at it, I've had success at the plate in two different years at this level [.308 in 58 games in 1987 and .291 in 129 games in 1990] -- and if I've done it before, I can do it again."

But there is no questioning what Bill Ripken does best. He's likely to save more runs on defense than he produces on offense.

And the style doesn't change -- whether it's midseason or the exhibition season -- it's always full speed. "Once the game starts you don't feel like it's spring training, even though you know it is," said Ripken. "That doesn't sound like it makes any sense, it doesn't even sound right to me, but it's the truth.

"You can't say I'm not going to dive because it's spring training and the fields are harder down here. You see the ball, you lean, you tell yourself 'I can catch it, I can catch it' -- and you dive."

It sounds simple, but the execution tells you differently. If yesterday's game had been a regular-season game on national television, Ripken would be drawing raves.

But it was only a "meaningless" exhibition game, so the performance will go largely unnoticed.

Except by the Orioles, who got a reminder of what they have in hand at second base. It isn't everything they'd like to have, but neither is it something they can dismiss lightly.

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