Shortstop Cruz has field day in O's debut

Bordick's replacement cleanly handles 6 chances

April 01, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The first ball that was put in play yesterday found Orioles shortstop Deivi Cruz.

Of course it did.

Where else would it go besides the spot vacated by a player who set the major league records last season for most consecutive errorless games and chances by a shortstop? The spot now inhabited by his replacement.

Cruz continued to do his best Mike Bordick impression, handling all six chances cleanly in the Orioles' 6-5, 13-inning victory over the Cleveland Indians before a chilled Opening Day crowd at Camden Yards. He also collected two hits in six at-bats.

After making it through 20 exhibition games without an error, Cruz didn't botch his first opportunity yesterday. He took a few quick steps to his right, backhanded the ball and threw out Indians leadoff hitter Milton Bradley.

"That was good for me," he said. "The first play goes to me, and I made the play."

Cruz saved a run in the 12th inning with a diving stop on Matt Lawton's grounder up the middle. He got to his feet quickly and made the throw for the second out as Omar Vizquel advanced only to third base. It topped his play in the second when he leaped to catch Josh Bard's liner and doubled off Travis Hafner after the Indians loaded the bases with one out.

Bordick signed with the Toronto Blue Jays as a free agent after turning down the Orioles' $1.5 million offer. Finding a shortstop became a priority during the winter meetings, and they settled on Cruz, who accepted a one year, $1.2 million contract with a club option for 2004.

A former Rule 5 pick of the Detroit Tigers, Cruz had the unenviable task of following one of the Orioles' most popular players, as well as their most accomplished fielder.

Last season, Cruz made 15 errors in 147 games with the San Diego Padres after their shortstops totaled 42 the previous year. With his assistance, the Padres turned 162 double plays, compared with 127 before his arrival, to improve from 15th to seventh in the National League.

Yet, to Bordick loyalists, that wasn't good enough. He still wasn't the shortstop who committed one error in 570 total chances last season for a record-setting .998 fielding percentage.

It's hard enough to fill a big pair of shoes. Try doing it without stumbling.

"A guy like him, I can't think about that," Cruz said. "I just go out there and try to do my best. I want to play hard. I can't take it easy."

Cruz was the only player in yesterday's lineup with no previous ties to the Orioles. B.J. Surhoff returned to the organization in February after 2 1/2 seasons with the Atlanta Braves and went 0-for-5 with a sacrifice bunt. His fly ball down the left-field line in the ninth inning came within a few feet of landing fair and perhaps scoring Gary Matthews from first base with the winning run.

Surhoff was charged with an error in the 12th when he overran Vizquel's tie-breaking single. Not every new Oriole could be perfect.

Because Cruz made every play - including a bounced throw to get the last out in the 13th and strand a runner - the Orioles still could brag about not having an error from their shortstop since April 10, 2002.

"I basically grew up with Bordy and I learned a lot from him. He was a great shortstop, one of the best ever. Obviously I'm going to miss playing with him," said second baseman Jerry Hairston.

"That being said, Deivi does a great job over there. He's very smooth, very fundamentally sound. Oriole fans are really going to have a treat watching him play."

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