Preparation is key to Ripken's relay success

INSIDE PITCH

June 08, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

When Cal Ripken took the throw from Mike Devereaux in the sixth inning Monday night, the most important part of the game's most important play was already over.

The powerful, one-skip, off-the-artificial-surface relay was the window dressing that finished the play. But it was what preceded the throw that typifies the most overlooked aspect of Ripken's game -- his uncanny ability to read a situation and position himself to make the play.

There is nothing fancy involved, just a superior knowledge of the game and the situation. From the instant the ball left Felix Jose's bat en route to becoming a double into the left-center-field gap, it was obvious there would be a play at the plate.

Just as obvious was that Ripken would have to make the longest throw, make it accurately and get rid of the ball in a hurry. When infielders have to make a relay throw, it isn't a case of merely going to a certain spot and hoping to get the ball in time.

If he goes too deep into the outfield, there is a risk of the outfielder overthrowing his target. Too shallow, and there's too XTC much time before the ball reaches its ultimate destination. In either case, the play is over.

Devereaux does not have the strongest of arms in center field. However, he, too, made an excellent play by using the artificial surface to get the ball to Ripken the quickest way possible, on the bounce, rather than risk an overthrow.

But the key to the play wasn't Ripken's throw, though it was a picture of perfection. Rather, it was what Ripken did before he received the ball from Devereaux -- which is when the throw actually began.

Once he reached his destination, Ripken's preparation to complete the play was already under way. He did not catch Devereaux's throw with his back to home. His body was already half-turned, his back (right) foot in position to provide the balance and power to make the throw.

Instead of catch, turn, throw in three distinct motions, it was catch-throw in one fluid movement. The play was executed with such precision, and the runner thrown out so easily, that it looked routine. It wasn't.

Devereaux got the ball to Ripken as quickly as possible. Catcher Chris Hoiles had ample time to block the plate had it been necessary, and Ripken made a great throw.

The video should go in a training film that could be used by anybody from Little League to the big leagues. This was textbook stuff.

But as good as the execution was, it wasn't the key element for what might have been a game-saving play. It was the in-play preparation that made it work.

And nobody does it better than Ripken, who has the rare ability of making defensive excellence appear routine.

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