Hairston steals spot atop AL leaders by brushing up on `art'

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Before ankle injury, he was tearing up basepaths

Mora just happy to play

Orioles

April 26, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Missing two games with a sprained ankle didn't affect Jerry Hairston's status as the American League's leader in stolen bases. Last night, he tried to hold his ground while sitting out most of a third.

Hairston began last night's series against Tampa Bay still ranked first with seven steals, one more than Anaheim's Eric Owens. He has led the Orioles the past two seasons. The real trick is staying ahead of a much bigger pack.

"The thing that's important to me is just getting on base," he said. "The more times you're on base, the more opportunities you have to steal. But I never steal just for the numbers. I don't want to just run wild and get thrown out. I try to pick my spots."

He has picked them correctly seven of eight times this season, the exception being Sunday's game against Tampa Bay. Catcher Toby Hall made a perfect throw to second base to nail Hairston in the eighth inning after he had been successful on his first six attempts.

"Toby threw a laser," Hairston said. "You're going to get thrown out sometimes. That's just how it is."

Hairston was 21-for-27 last year, giving him 50 steals in his two full seasons with the Orioles.

"Obviously, teams know I'll be stealing, so I can't really surprise them," he said. "It's an art. It's not just about having speed. You have to know when to go and when to stay put."

Hairston doesn't study video to get his advantage. He relies more on observations made during games.

"We play Tampa Bay all the time. I should know them by now," he said jokingly.

"Everybody has their tendencies. I know certain pitchers like to do certain things, and I try to exploit it. It's also a guessing game. Sometimes I guess breaking ball or I try to anticipate the pitcher going to the plate. That's how I try to get good jumps. That's all stealing really is, getting good jumps."

And staying on the field.

Interim coach Sam Perlozzo kept Hairston out of the starting lineup last night, but used him as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning. Hairston struck out.

Put me in, Coach

Hairston's injury has given Melvin Mora three consecutive starts at second base. For a player accustomed to moving all over the field, this is as close to planting roots as he may get.

Mora also has made five starts in left field, two in center and two at shortstop. He was listed as the shortstop on Tuesday, but moved to left when Marty Cordova became a late scratch because of elbow stiffness.

"Melvin is a guy that, for me, you put him in a spot as your savior," Perlozzo said. "You say, `Come on, Melvin, pick us up in left field tonight,' and he goes out and saves the day. You say, `Melvin, we need you a few days at shortstop,' and he goes out and saves the day. Then he does the same thing at second base.

"Then you put him out there a few days and he gets bored."

Mora would rather stay in one spot than on the bench.

"I get bored in the dugout," he said before going 0-for-3 with a walk last night. "As long as I get playing time, I'm fine. You can put me in the same position every day. I like to play. That's the key. As long as I'm in the lineup, I'm happy."

Job sharing

After starting the past two games, catcher Geronimo Gil went back to the bench last night. His replacement, Brook Fordyce, had made three consecutive starts before Gil returned to the lineup Wednesday.

The line dividing Gil and Fordyce is becoming more blurred. Gil began the season as the Orioles' undisputed No. 1 catcher, the same way he finished the previous summer, but Fordyce has started five of the past 11 games and appeared in two others.

For the season, Gil has started 14 games, compared with eight by Fordyce, who was pulled for Hairston after going 0-for-2 (.208).

"Both catchers are going to catch unless one guy gets extremely hot," Perlozzo said. "We don't have a situation right now where we have a clear-cut guy to go out there."

Bechler's baby born

Kiley Bechler, the widow of former Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, gave birth to a girl Tuesday night in Medford, Ore.

Haile Bechler weighed 9 pounds, 4 ounces, and was 20 inches long. She arrived at 5 p.m. PST.

Steve Bechler died Feb. 17 from complications related to heatstroke.

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