Alomar does little things to win over O's 'Intangibles' are plus even on hitless day for second baseman

Relay draws Ripken raves

On base, afield, at bat, he's subtle contributor

March 04, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- This is how good a player Roberto Alomar can be: He didn't get a single hit yesterday, in the Orioles' 3-1 exhibition victory over the New York Mets, didn't score a run, and his new teammates gushed over his subtle contributions that made a big difference to the outcome.

"He's got impressive physical tools," shortstop Cal Ripken said. "But it's the intangibles he brings . . . that separate his abilities from the others'."

Alomar's intangibles and tangibles helped the Orioles time and again. In the third inning, he came to bat against tough Mets pitcher Bill Pulsipher with runners at second and third with nobody out. Pulsipher got ahead in the count no balls and two strikes, and on the next pitch, Alomar, batting right-handed, managed to punch a grounder to the second baseman, scoring Manny Alexander from third.

With one out in the top of the fifth inning, Mets center fielder Lance Johnson, one of the fastest men in the game, hit a low chopper toward Alomar at second. But on its last bounce before reaching Alomar, it appeared to skid, staying low to the ground, rather than bouncing up.

Alomar's body lurched forward, his hands flashing down, somehow fast enough to glove the ball. Then he made an off-balance throw to first, the ball reaching Rafael Palmeiro on a bounce, and nipped Johnson.

Most other second basemen, it's an error or a hit. With Alomar, an out. "He's got amazing hands," said right fielder Bobby Bonilla. "I don't know how he did it, but he got it."

Batting with Alexander on third in the bottom of the fifth, Alomar ++ got ahead of Mets reliever John Franco two balls and no strikes and drew a walk. With Alomar, a major base-stealing threat, on first, Mets first baseman Chris Jones had to stay at the bag, giving the left-handed-hitting Palmeiro a chance to pull a ball through the hole.

Palmeiro couldn't do it, striking out, but then Alomar swiped second, giving Bonilla a chance to hit with runners at second and third. Bonilla walked and Franco escaped without allowing a run when Ripken grounded out, but there was so much opportunity created by Alomar's presence. A dress rehearsal for the regular season.

But it was a defensive play by Alomar in the top of the third inning that grabbed Ripken's attention. Mets left fielder Bernard Gilkey, with above average speed, led off second base with one out, when Jones hit a looping liner into right-center field.

Ripken watched Alomar, and this is what he saw and replayed for reporters later: as the ball carried over the infield, Alomar turned and shot a glance at Gilkey. A check on the runner's progress, in case there might be a play at home plate. It just so happened that Gilkey hesitated for a moment, not sure whether the prevailing crosswind was going to blow the ball to Bonilla for a catch.

Alomar saw this, as he confirmed later. "He knew where the runner was," said Ripken, an excellent relay man in his own right. "He knew where to throw the ball. When he got the throw from [Bonilla], I was telling him to throw home, but he knew this already."

Alomar caught the throw from Bonilla, whirled and fired a throw home on a bounce, which catcher Chris Hoiles scooped up and, with his left foot braced in front of home plate, he tagged out Gilkey.

Ripken quite obviously loved the whole play, loved watching it happen, loved watching Alomar make it happen. "He has the instincts to anticipate that play and the physical ability to make the throw," Ripken said. "It could've been the end of the inning, or the beginning of a big inning.

"Over the course of a long season, you don't know what that's going to mean, how many outs."

Ripken and Alomar talked constantly over the five innings they played together, and talked afterward, Alomar thanking Ripken for telling him to throw home, Ripken complimenting Alomar on his look toward home before making the throw.

"That was an extremely difficult play," Ripken said.

Manager Davey Johnson added: "You see some guys hesitate '' when they turn [to make the relay], or they bobble the ball. With the caliber of player you've got [in Alomar], you expect that play."

Johnson's first impressions of his middle infielders?

"I don't worry too much about Robbie and Cal," Johnson said smiling. "I just enjoy watching them."


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