Bill Ripken and Mark McLemore share the same corner of the Orioles' spacious locker room, the same position on the field and the same team-first philosophy.
So far, so good.
"The main thing is for us to win," McLemore was saying last night. "If I'm out there and we win, fine. If Bill's out there and we win, that's fine, too."
For most of five seasons, through good and bad, the Orioles' second base job was the exclusive property of Ripken.
This year, Camden Yards isn't the only new feature in the Orioles' arsenal. McLemore, who went to spring training as a non-roster player, has become a semi-regular at second. Last night against the Oakland Athletics was only Ripken's second start in the last nine games.
Ripken accepts his new circumstance stoically, without complaint.
"Mack is playing well, swinging the bat well," he said. "When that situation arises, he's going to get playing time. Everyone on the team has a pretty good attitude toward the team. It's been 'let's help the team win.' "
Then Ripken, who went 0-for-2 in last night's 4-2 loss, admitted the obvious.
"This is a little different than any situation I've been in," he said. "Since 1987, I've been the everyday second baseman. Now I can't say I'm the everyday second baseman."
The tag-team tandem of McLemore and Ripken has been coolly efficient through the first two months of the season. McLemore, with 13 RBI, and Ripken, with nine, have combined to drive in 22 runs and score 21.
"That's not a bad situation if you're the manager," Ripken said.
It is in stark contrast to last season, when the Orioles' offensive production at second was the worst of any position in the major leagues, excluding National League pitchers. With Ripken hurt much of the year, Orioles second basemen batted just .203 with an on-base percentage of .240 and 34 RBI.
For now, manager John Oates has gotten the most out of McLemore's hot bat and Ripken's part-time contributions. There's no name for how the system works, just Oates' own complicated equation that he computes night to night.
Last night, Oates said he started Ripken against the Athletics' Bob Welch, a right-hander, because of three factors: "He has better numbers [against Welch] than McLemore, he needs playing time and he needs to play this weekend."
When the Orioles open a three-game series with the California Angels tomorrow night, they'll face left-handers in the first two games. But this is definitely not a platoon system, or McLemore, a switch-hitter, would have started against Welch.
Winning is what makes Ripken's new role easier to accept. He said he doesn't think of that role in terms of a demotion.
"I've tried not to think about it in that regard," he said. "It's just a different feeling. I know I'll get my playing time, and Mack will get his playing time. It's easier to accept when the team is going well."
Oates said he has talked to Ripken a couple of times about the situation and Bill has handled it "very well."
"He realizes Mack has played great. If Mack played poorly and we were losing, he wouldn't be so agreeable to the situation."
McLemore has added a lively bat and aggressive speed to the Orioles lineup. Ripken is clearly the better fielder, but has struggled at the plate.
McLemore brought a .225 career batting average into the season in around 900 at-bats. With twice as many at-bats, Ripken is a .247 career hitter.
When McLemore was signed by the Orioles last July, he brought baggage. He had been released by the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros -- two of baseball's worst teams -- in 18 months. Before that, he was sent out of the California Angels' system after being heralded as Bobby Grich's replacement.
"Even though I was released twice, I wasn't released for lack of ability," McLemore said.
After getting cut by the Houston Astros last summer, he wound up with Triple-A Rochester under Greg Biagini. The Red Wings manager worked with McLemore's approach to hitting and it has paid dividends.
"I was a slap hitter," he said. "Now I hit with more authority. A lot of it is my mental approach. I have confidence I can hit now. There's no negative feedback."
McLemore has cooled off in May, though. He is hitting .148 (4-for-27) in his last nine games.
"Last week I hit the ball good, but it didn't fall," he said. "Knowing I'm going to get my hits, that's the mental part of it. The support part came when Johnny kept putting me out there. I don't look at tonight as any kind of punishment. Johnny just wants Billy out there."
For now, it is an arrangement the Orioles, and the two players involved, can live with.