Ripken's bat silent, but his glove is loud

Defensive gems play big role in win, prove healing of rib complete


April 03, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Unable to get the ball out of the infield in four tries yesterday, Cal Ripken found another way to test the new dimensions at Camden Yards during the Orioles' opening game against the Boston Red Sox.

He chased a pop-up to the dugout steps, extended his left arm and made the catch -- his introduction to the reduced foul territory that came from moving back home plate.

"Maybe that's why I caught it," he said.

It was an impressive play, with catcher Brook Fordyce providing a distraction by tumbling into the dugout ahead of him, but it barely registered on Ripken's defensive scale. He already had robbed Boston's Craig Grebeck in the third with a diving stop to his right, making the throw from his knees to get the out.

And he probably spared the Orioles a loss with a backhanded stop of a hard smash from Carl Everett in the ninth that resulted in a force at second base and kept the score tied.

Brady Anderson's single in the 11th gave the Orioles a stirring, 2-1 victory over the Red Sox. Anderson was surrounded by reporters after the game, with a similar mob scene playing out at Jerry Hairston's locker after the Orioles' second baseman led off with a double and came around on Anderson's hit.

But Ripken's fingerprints were all over the outcome -- even with his glove being responsible.

"He made some real big plays," Fordyce said. "Tough plays where he had to step and dive and come up and make great throws. That's got to be nothing but a confidence builder."

It's also got to prove again that Ripken is no longer restricted by the fractured rib that kept him from playing this spring until the final week. The diving stop forced him to land on his right side, where the injury had occurred. He kept reaching across his body, a movement that wasn't advisable when he first reported to camp.

His throws were strong and accurate, his play reminiscent of the two years he won Gold Gloves.

"During all his workouts, I haven't seen where he's slowed down from last year," said bench coach Sam Perlozzo, who works with the infielders. "No aches, no pains. It's just normal Cal, like he's always been.

"I don't even think about it. When Cal comes out like this, it doesn't even surprise me. He's diving. He's doing everything."

"You don't have time to think about it when you're out there," Ripken said. "I know during the games in Florida I was reminding myself, `Don't leave your feet, don't leave your feet. It's not worth it now. Just get your work in and make sure you have a chance to start the season healthy.'

"Once the season starts, you throw that away. You can't play it safe. I can't go out there and say I'm not going to give everything I have and try to win the game. If you end up getting hurt as a result, that's part of the game."

So is going hitless against three-time Cy Young Award-winner Pedro Martinez. Ripken bounced out three times, and later struck out looking against Boston reliever Derek Lowe. With only two hits this spring, he's still searching for his timing at the plate.

"I thought it was starting to come around the last three days," Ripken said. "I don't know if it's a good indication when you're facing Pedro. You can be as hot as you can be and you don't feel like you can get anything generated off him. He's that good. You look beyond him and get back in the cage and try to get consistent with your swings.

"I felt really good. I felt unbelievably good in batting practice the last few days. You can get 150 or 200 at-bats in spring training, but when you start the season it's still a whole new ballgame. Now we're in the season and I can't worry about that. You go forward."

That's where Ripken and Fordyce were headed on the pop-up, with the Orioles' catcher running out of room as the ball eluded his mitt. The replay was needed to determine that Ripken had recorded the out.

"I didn't see him," Fordyce said. `I went in and I didn't even know he was there. Then I heard the crowd cheering and turned back, and Cal was there."

He always seemed to be in the right place yesterday, even when having only an instant to get there.

"He's got the best hands of anybody I've ever played with," Anderson said. "I've never seen anybody that big who's that athletic. I've never seen anybody that small who's that athletic. Nothing he does surprises me. Somehow he's gotten to the point where he's completely underrated defensively, and I'm not really sure why."

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