Hard-working defense keeps getting the job done

SIDELIGHT

June 12, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

BOSTON -- The topic was defense, so even Orioles manager Johnny Oates couldn't find a way to get defensive.

He couldn't read between the lines of every question, couldn't smell a rat anywhere, didn't have any reason to feel cornered.

There was no misinterpreting anything about the Orioles' defense in yesterday's 5-2 win over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. It was unspectacularly spectacular.

Mike Devereaux raced acres in the huge center field to catch a pair of balls in the seventh inning, including one, off Andre Dawson's bat, at the triangle that stands 420 feet away from home plate.

Rafael Palmeiro turned a potential run-scoring double by Mo Vaughn into a groundout in the first.

And last -- he makes it look so easy he always is an afterthought defensively -- shortstop Cal Ripken made two tough plays look routine.

Ripken corraled a hard one-hopper behind second base and threw out Vaughn for the second out of the seventh. He played a tough hop perfectly and threw out Wes Chamberlain from the outfield grass for the second out of the eighth.

"Those are not easy plays," Oates said. "He just makes them look easy."

Said second baseman Mark McLemore of Ripken: "It's great to see the spectacular play, but Cal makes the routine play 100 times out of 100. Or at least 99 1/2 times out of 100. That's what you need, especially at shortstop."

By positioning and anticipation, Oates pointed out, Ripken makes plays in routine fashion that others would draw gasps on.

"Sometimes you will see him take three steps when a ball is fouled off," Oates said. "He anticipates so well. Where the ball is pitched, what pitch it is, who the hitter is. And no shortstop has got a better arm. His positioning, his accuracy and arm strength throwing.

"There are shortstops who have better range, quicker feet, but if it's the bottom of the ninth, you have a one-run lead, runners are on first and third, I know who I want the ground ball hit to. Give me the guy who is going to catch the ground ball and make the play. He's as good as there is at making the routine play, and that includes Ozzie Smith, Omar Vizquel, who I think is a very good shortstop, anyone. I'll take Cal."

And Oates will take his defense, which has allowed eight unearned runs, easily the fewest in baseball.

"In my time here, I think the most consistent part of our play -- I don't think, I know -- has been our defense," Oates said. "Every year, we want to play a 162-game schedule with less than 100 errors."

The Orioles are on a pace to commit 84 errors and win 92 games.

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