Everything's OK in right and center McLemore, Buford continue to produce

May 09, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

TORONTO -- If anybody told you Mark McLemore would be leading the team in RBI and Damon Buford would be the regular center fielder on Mother's Day, you'd expect that the Orioles would be in a tough situation.

And you'd be right. However, McLemore and Buford are two of the few blameless for the Orioles' 11-17 start. Yesterday was a perfect example as the two combined to drive in five runs and score three times in a 6-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.

McLemore drove in three runs with a triple and single, and now leads the club with 14 RBI, one more than Cal Ripken and Brady Anderson. Buford contributed a pair of doubles, the first with the bases loaded to drive in the first two runs in a five-run fifth inning that also featured McLemore's triple.

"Believe it or not I was leading the team in RBI one year -- I had about 11 early in May 1989 [when he was with the Angels]," said McLemore. "It didn't last very long -- we had a couple of guys who could do that in a couple of days."

McLemore, who boosted his average to .301, has assumed the regular job in right field, filling one of the team's most glaring needs. "You keep putting him out there and he keeps getting the big hits," said manager Johnny Oates. "And he brings a good attitude to the park, which rubs off on other people."

The outfield is new territory for McLemore, an infielder by trade, but he says that it has not affected him. "I didn't think about it [the transition] when I first went out there, and I don't think about it now," he said.

"I don't think about it when I play second base. When you think, that's when you make mistakes."

While McLemore's move to right field has been relatively smooth, Buford's major-league debut had a very rough edge. The first ball hit his way was a routine fly ball that he lost in the haze of Minnesota Metrodome's background.

It was not an easy beginning. "I really didn't know what to think," said Buford. "Everybody told me that it's happened before -- but it hadn't happened to me.

"All I could think about was it was my first play in the big leagues -- and it could happen three or four more times before the game was over."

It didn't take Buford long to shake the shakes. The next day he got his first major-league hit, a day later he got his first home run, and yesterday he had two doubles to raise his average to .400 (6-for-15).

"There are still times during the game when I get a little nervous, but I think that's normal," said Buford.

He certainly has not been intimidated by the major leagues, and he appears to be relaxed.

"He's very quiet, and very patient," said hitting coach Greg Biagini. "He's got a short, compact stroke and makes contact.

"He had that swing at the start of spring training, but then he lost it and never got it back. He's had good pitch selection, discipline and some real good at-bats."

His misadventure in the Metrodome cost the Orioles a run in a game they lost 4-3, but Oates said he never doubted Buford's ability to overcome that play. "I think because he's been around the game all his life [Buford's father Don played for the Orioles and now manages Double-A Bowie], I didn't think it would affect him," said Oates.

"I saw him play in spring training, and I saw him play in Arizona last fall, and when it comes to going to get the ball, he's as good as just about any of them."

Buford said he's had no problem putting the play behind him. "There's been too many positive things happen to dwell on the negative," he said.

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