Shortstop goes down, but Orioles still can soar

July 17, 2002|By MIKE PRESTON

ORIOLES SHORTSTOP Mike Bordick cannot be replaced because of the intangibles that can't be measured in a batting average, RBIs or fielding percentage.

When the team announced yesterday that Bordick's right leg will be immobilized for at least three weeks with a hairline fracture to his right kneecap, the injury took away the soul of the Orioles, but not their heart.

The Orioles of 2002 are different from the 2001 version. A Bordick injury won't cause them to quit this time around.

"Last year when he got hurt [separated shoulder], we went down after that," Orioles second baseman Jerry Hairston said. "Last year, we panicked; this year, we won't. That's because we know how to win now. We want to win. We expect to win. Now we have to find another way to piece together more wins, and keep improving."

That's where the Orioles are in their rebuilding program. Veterans such as David Segui, Jeff Conine, Tony Batista and Bordick have done a nice job of handling the team this year, enough so that the Orioles appear to be in good enough mental shape to handle any bumps in the road, even a major roadblock, such as Bordick's injury.

You feel for Bordick.

He had surgery on his throwing arm in August because of the separated shoulder. In the past month of this season, his offense was finally catching up with his defense. He had committed only one error this year, going the past 73 games without an error. He leads American League shortstops with a .998 fielding percentage.

During the past 40 games, he hit .301, and Monday night he went 3-for-3 with a double and a three-run homer before leaving with the injured knee when he was picked off in the sixth inning.

Bordick is the epitome of a team player, as opposed to his teammate, winning pitcher and "me" guy Scott Erickson, who said about Bordick's replacement, Melvin Mora, who committed an error in the third inning: "Nobody can fill his shoes, obviously. First day in there we had an error. We hadn't had an error at that position in 73 games, and the first day [without him] there, we had an error. So let's just hope it doesn't affect us too bad. Let's hope there are not timely errors."

Ouch.

"Obviously, he is the cornerstone player of this team," Orioles catcher Brook Fordyce said of Bordick. "He is a tremendous defensive player. He is here early; the work ethic is unbelievable."

Conine said: "Everybody knows the story. I spent all spring with him. Nobody is going to work harder; nobody appreciates him more than us."

But in the same breath, these Orioles aren't about to go into the tank. They did that last year. The Orioles were 27-31 with Bordick and 36-67 without him.

But last season, the Orioles hadn't developed a team concept. They were still Cal's team, and 2001 was the grand farewell tour. But today's version is different. This team doesn't appeal to the casual baseball fan because it doesn't have any superstars.

The Orioles don't have the big home run hitters or the heavy RBI producers. They win games with sacrifice bunts and flies, and being aggressive on the bases. They win games with a solid, young pitching staff and a gritty team that earns everything it produces. They won when Bordick was struggling at the plate, and when he had found his stroke.

"Coming out of spring training, the media wrote us off, picked us to lose 100 games," Conine said. "But everyone who wore a uniform on this team felt differently. Whatever we have needed, we have gotten, if it was a few more base hits, or just a few more good pitches from our staff late in games. I don't expect that to change."

It won't.

The Orioles have other factors working in their favor as well. This team has battled through adversity. After beating the New York Yankees on Opening Day, the team lost six straight. Segui has been out of the lineup with a tendon injury in his left hand since May 21, and Conine has been on the disabled list since June 15 with a strained right hamstring.

And where are the Orioles?

They're at 45-46.

They never, ever quit.

"It's a shame for the ballclub because he's so important to us, and it's a shame for him, too," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said of Bordick's injury. "He is so important to our ballclub. I'll talk to Syd [Thrift], and we've got a couple of options.

"We've battled some of the toughest teams in baseball even when everyone has given up on [us]. They've had every reason to belly up and feel sorry for themselves, but they just come out and battle harder the next day."

The schedule works in the Orioles' favor. They didn't catch much of a break during the first half of the year, but the team still held its own, going 6-6 against the Yankees, 4-5 against Oakland and 5-4 against Seattle. Last year, the Orioles were 2-7 against Oakland, 1-8 against Seattle and 5-13 against New York.

Of the 71 remaining games this year, 19 are against Toronto, eight against Tampa Bay and six against Detroit.

"Can you replace him?" Fordyce asked about Bordick. "No. But he instilled in us, especially the young players, how to play, how to go about our business."

And the Orioles will. And they'll continue to improve. It's a young team that right now doesn't know any other way.

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