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Alexander joins, not follows, Ripken

THE BALTIMORE SUN

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."

Going into last night, Alexander had made only four of his team-leading eight errors since taking over at second. Ripken was 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 Orioles had committed one error and had turned 11 double plays in their last 10 games going into last night.

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, who was touted as the team's shortstop of the future, admits 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 like a playing manager.

"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, but it seems like 20, especially when you've been part of 29 double-play combinations. 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."

Comfort is bred by familiarity, and familiarity is achieved by playing.

LATE ORIOLES GAME

Last night's Orioles-Royals game at Camden Yards did not end in time to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions of The Sun and all editions of The Evening Sun. For a report on last night's game and other Orioles information, call Sundial at (410) 783-1800, ext. 5023 (in Anne Arundel County, call [410] 268-7736, ext. 5023).

ORIOLES TONIGHT

Opponent: Kansas City Royals

Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Time: 7:35

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Royals' Kevin Appier (11-5, 3.04) vs. Orioles' Ben McDonald (2-4, 4.40)

Tickets: 2,900 remain

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