Cal Ripken's double-play partners have come and gone during his consecutive-games streak like the changes of the seasons.
In playing with 29 different second basemen, Ripken has learned how to adjust and adjust quickly.
"There's no shortcut for familiarity," Ripken said. "It's just playing."
Manny Alexander, who moved into the starting lineup June 5, is Ripken's 29th double-play partner. And although they are both natural shortstops and have only played together for a little over a month, Ripken and Alexander have not looked bad.
"Manny's learning the hitters," Orioles manager Phil Regan said. "He's made great strides, but I think working with Cal he can be even better."
Alexander has made only four of his team-leading eight errors since taking over at second. Ripken is second on the team with six miscues.
But together they anchor a defense that has an American League-leading .985 fielding percentage and has committed the second fewest number of errors with 37. The team has committed two errors and turned 11 double plays in its past 11 games.
Alexander made a nice, leaping eighth-inning catch last night -- snaring Chris James' line drive with two outs, the tying run on first and the Orioles clinging to an 8-7 lead.
But with the score tied at 8 in the ninth, Alexander waved at a ground ball by Tom Goodwin that trickled into right field and was ruled a hit, helping the Royals rally to victory.
The Orioles' infield defense is especially important with two sinkerball pitchers -- Kevin Brown and Scott Erickson -- in the starting rotation.
"We've always prided ourselves on not hurting ourselves," Ripken said. "So far we've done that."
Alexander and Ripken aren't the only ones carrying the load. Catcher Chris Hoiles is throwing out more base runners, center fielder Curtis Goodwin is getting better jumps since receiving a new pair of contact lenses and third baseman Jeff Huson has filled in ably for Jeff Manto.
But the evolving combination of Alexander and Ripken is the key. Alexander, once touted as the team's shortstop of the future, said that he is not a natural second baseman.
"I've never played second base in my life. I've always played shortstop," Alexander said. "I feel a lot more comfortable [now at second]."
Alexander's learning on the job, finding where to take the relay throws from outfield, where Ripken likes to receive the ball on 4-6-3 double plays, where to play opposing hitters. Many of Alexander's on-field tutorials come from Ripken, who positions the team's fielders.
"Sometimes he moves me because he knows the hitters better than me," Alexander said. "He's been playing for like 20 years."
Actually this is his 14th, and Ripken knows better than anybody what it's like to shift positions at the major-league level.
"It's difficult," the former third baseman said. "[Manny's] always been a shortstop and now he's at second base and he's learning it at the big-league level. It's a tough place to learn. He's comfortable, which is a good first step."