On marks, get set . . . O's are going to go: Johnson's formula for a title run is to aggressively take every base available.

February 28, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Sam Perlozzo had the kind of day that all third base coaches dread, back when he worked for Davey Johnson with the New York Mets. A runner thrown out at home in the first inning. A runner thrown out at home in the second inning.

And, yes, a runner thrown out at home in the third inning. After seeing the third man cut down, Perlozzo trotted back into the dugout, expecting Johnson to bark at him, and he figured he might as well be contrite. "Well," Perlozzo said, approaching Johnson directly, "I guess I'll just start holding the runners."

Johnson turned and faced Perlozzo. "You start holding them," Johnson said, "and you'll start answering to me."

Johnson wants his base runners to be aggressive; he demands they try to take the extra base. If a runner rounding first doesn't get to second on a throw headed for home, Johnson says, that's tantamount to a mental error, and he won't accept mental errors.

"If you don't press the defense," he told his players, "and you don't try to take the extra base, then that's a losing attitude."

The Cincinnati Reds, the team managed by Johnson last year, had an aggressive attitude. They led the NL in stolen bases, while being successful 74 percent of the time, and rarely hit into double plays. They were, says San Diego hitting coach Merv Rettenmund, the kind of team that scares a defense, and Johnson spurred them on.

He won't have the same kind of personnel this year. The Orioles have two legitimate base-stealing threats in Brady Anderson and Roberto Alomar, a few guys capable of stealing bases if the situation is right (Mike Devereaux, Jeffrey Hammonds, Rafael Palmeiro, B. J. Surhoff), and some slow runners (Cal Ripken, Bobby Bonilla, Chris Hoiles).

Johnson wants them all to be aggressive. All of them.

If the count is three balls and one strike? "They're going," Johnson said. Hoiles included.

If the opposing first baseman doesn't hold Hoiles or Ripken or Bonilla? "They're going," he said.

Even if they get thrown out, Johnson thinks the Orioles can gain an edge. If the Orioles can get a reputation for being aggressive, for constantly looking to take the extra base, for exploiting defensive mistakes, they eventually will force the defense to adjust.

Maybe Palmeiro, who stole 22 bases for Texas in 1993, will steal a couple of bases early in the season when the opposing first baseman doesn't hold him. Advance scouts will see this and soon teams will change their strategy and hold Palmeiro, opening up a hole in the right side of the infield.

If Surhoff steals a few bases, maybe the catcher will be more likely to call for a fastball on a 3-1 count, hoping to give himself a better chance of throwing out Surhoff -- and simultaneously giving the batter a better pitch to hit.

"That's the way you've got to play this game," Johnson said. "There's nothing better than a three-run homer, I agree with Earl [Weaver] on that. But there are times when your team goes into an offensive funk, and you'll need that aggressiveness."

The Orioles, generally speaking, haven't had aggressive base-running teams in recent years. Perlozzo, hired by Johnson to be the third base coach this season, worked in Seattle for Lou Piniella in recent years, and acknowledges that the word around the AL has been the Orioles are a station-to-station team. They won't run much; won't hurt you on the bases.

Hoiles, for one, is eager to change that. "It's like Davey was saying to us," Hoiles said. "Second base is better than first base [for a runner]. Third base is better than second. Home is better than third. Be aggressive.

"It's something that makes sense, and it's something we should've been doing a lot more of. If they're going to give you the base, then take it. . . . We want to put the defense on its heels."

Hoiles and Palmeiro agree that teams that run aggressively change the way the defense plays. They've had to adjust to the Milwaukee Brewers, the Kansas City Royals, the Cleveland Indians.

The Indians have a great lineup, Hoiles said, but an underrated part of their offense is their base running. Cleveland is always looking to get its runners into scoring position, constantly pursuing the extra base, an approach that can wear on a defense.

Palmeiro thinks he could go back to being a threat on the bases again. After stealing 22 in 1993, for Kevin Kennedy, he's stolen 10 in two years for the Orioles. "A different philosophy," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "We want to get things going. We want to change that."

Johnson didn't yell at Perlozzo for being aggressive back with the Mets, and he says he won't yell at Orioles thrown out trying to take the extra base. "We're not going to set any records running and stealing bases," he said.

"We'll play at times for the big inning, we'll play at times for one run. Rome isn't built in a day. The main thing is increasing the aggressiveness."

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