Palmeiro likes new basic edge

SIDELIGHT

May 14, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS -- Rafael Palmeiro spent one full season and parts of two others with the Chicago Cubs and five with the Texas Rangers. He has yet to play in the postseason.

He likes his chances of getting there with the Orioles better than in his previous stops for reasons that stretch beyond talent. The Rangers had a stable of stars and an abundance of power. What didn't they have that the Orioles have?

Baseball smarts.

"This is definitely the most fundamentally sound team of the three I've played for," Palmeiro said. "I knew that coming in. It wins games for you. It can be the difference between getting there and not getting there."

In Texas, the basics were the difference in a negative sense.

"The teams I played for down there weren't very good fundamentally," Palmeiro said. "The defense was bad. We couldn't get a bunt down when we needed one. We couldn't turn the double play when we needed to. It makes a big difference."

Veteran shortstop Cal Ripken and rookie right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds have been among the teammates who have impressed Palmeiro.

"Jeffrey Hammonds, what more can you ask for from him?" Palmeiro said. "He's just a rookie and he knows the fundamentals of the game, but not everybody's a Jeffrey Hammonds."

And not everybody is a Cal Ripken.

"The thing about Cal is he's so consistent with what he gets to," Palmeiro said. "He may not have the range of a Barry Larkin, but every ball he gets to he makes it look routine. Cal's so smart. He knows the league. He knows the hitters. He knows the pitcher who's throwing for us. You have to cheat a little and he's very smart at it."

Going into last night's opener of a three-game series against the Minnesota Twins at the Metrodome, the Orioles ranked first in the American League with a .986 fielding percentage and 16 errors. Minnesota was second with a .982 fielding percentage.

Palmeiro has a 144-game errorless streak, an accomplishment in which he takes great pride. Mike Hegan, playing for Milwaukee and Oakland, set the record of 178 from 1970-72. "I didn't start playing first until I went to Texas," Palmeiro said. "I've improved 200 percent since then. It took me awhile to get used to the mechanics of playing the position. Now it's automatic."

Last off-season, the Yankees talked with Palmeiro and had plans to turn him back into a left fielder if he signed with them.

"I didn't want to do it, but I would have done it," Palmeiro said. "This worked out best. I get to stay at first base."

Orioles manager Johnny Oates gives Palmeiro high grades for defense and base running.

"He's excellent going from first to third on a single," Oates said.

Overall, Oates has been pleased with the fundamentals that contributed to the Orioles' 21-11 start.

"We have been fundamentally sound defensively," Oates said. "We're hitting the cutoff man, hitting the relay man, catching the ball, throwing the ball and making the plays pretty well. Our base running is greatly improved from last year. A couple of runners have been doubled off bases when they shouldn't have been, but overall it's improved. What we need to do a much better job at is situational hitting. We're getting runners to third base with less than two outs and not driving them in."

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