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This was one time when the left side of the Orioles' infield was a little too much in sync.

Friday night's game against the Boston Red Sox: Third baseman Cal Ripken scoops up a grounder and sidearms a high throw to first for an error. The next inning: Shortstop Mike Bordick races toward the middle, snags a chopper and throws high to first for an error.

Now, move ahead to the next day. Ripken leaps and makes a backhanded stab of a liner by Boston's Mike Stanley. And Bordick, the next inning, dives in the hole to smother a shot from Rudy Pemberton, unloading the ball before he's risen from the dirt.

That's a more accurate gauge of how Ripken and Bordick are adjusting to the newness of this season.

Their Friday miscues were like a flashback, when Ripken had three errors through the first seven games and Bordick was tighter than a fist. But if the initial returns weren't especially favorable, the past few weeks have been much better.

Before Friday, Ripken hadn't made an error since April 9, the same night Bordick committed his second. It was a solid stretch from someone playing the position on a regular basis for the first time in 15 years, someone still getting reacquainted with the nuances of the hot corner.

"Cal had a couple of tough balls hit to him to start out," said Sam Perlozzo, who coaches third base and works with the infielders. "At shortstop, Cal was a rhythm guy. He was real smooth. At third, it's more of a reaction situation. I think he's starting to settle in better."

So does Ripken. "In the beginning, the unknown causes you to be a little concerned," he said. "There's nothing like the comfort in knowing how to play your position. But you go out and you play, and those concerns turn into confidence. You get a comfortable feeling knowing you're reacting instinctively to situations. You make mistakes and you learn from them. You have your successes and you learn from those."

Bordick, whose signing to a three-year, $9 million contract this winter bumped Ripken to third, has had little success at the plate. But he sheds any thoughts of his .141 average when he slips on the glove. And the strain of moving a legend and playing in a new city -- pressure that was enhanced with a throwing error on Opening Day -- has lessened considerably.

"Opening Day here in Baltimore is pretty special. I'd hope you could go to anybody in this room and they'd say they were a bundle of nerves that day," Bordick said.

Perlozzo said that Bordick began the season "wanting to prove to people this would work. Mike's a tough kid. He's much more relaxed now."

And in many ways, he's much different from Ripken at shortstop. Bordick, five inches shorter and 45 pounds lighter, will dart to either side, dive for the ball and fire from his knees. How often did Orioles fans witness such feats from Ripken, who always seemed to be in the right place, making each play look routine?

"He's very acrobatic," Ripken said. "He can charge after the ball, he can one-hand the ball, he can play the ball on the run. I was more systematic. As far as preparing and thinking about the game, our thought processes are very similar. But everyone has to play the position based on their ability. His style is he wants to get everything in a fast-paced sort of way, and he's very successful doing that."

Bordick, who also has four errors going into tonight's game in Minnesota, couldn't waste any time getting acclimated with the rest of the infield, a task made more difficult by Roberto Alomar's spring ankle injury and five-game suspension.

"I think it's been going OK," Bordick said. "There's a process of learning about your teammates. It just takes time. You can't just sit down and talk to somebody for 10 minutes and suddenly have that communication. Especially in the infield, you like to be able to communicate without saying anything. And I think that's coming along a lot better than I expected."

Ripken said: "I check with him all the time on left-handed hitters and pull hitters that he's going to play a little more up the middle, and I try to come over and cover the area on slow-hit balls. From playing shortstop, I remember that's one of the more difficult plays to make. You just try to coordinate your position where you're not getting in his way and you pass each other comfortably, and I think we've done a good job with that.

"The hardest part is reading the ball off the bat and knowing when to block the ball and act like a goalie," Ripken added. "You get caught in between hops, and you have to determine which ones to try to catch and which ones to try to block.

"I'm experimenting with depths of play, how far you get in on bunt plays, how far you get back when there's a power guy up, what your angles are when you're close or back. There's so much to get used to and learn."

As always, he takes countless ground balls before games, motioning to Perlozzo whether he wants them down the line or toward the hole. Or right at him.

"He's not afraid of anything," Perlozzo said. "He's not afraid of a challenge. He's not afraid of a ground ball hit at him. He plays shallow; he'll come in at a guy. And he likes to know how things are going to happen. That's what makes him such a good player."

It's been fun for Ripken, whose approval of Bordick's acquisition triggered his move. Manager Davey Johnson has noticed it, too, saying Ripken is having "a great time this spring."

"I'm really enjoying the challenge and the process of it all. I didn't know whether I would or not," Ripken said, who also has to be happy about his .341 average.

"There's a newness to the position, that you're discovering different things. You see the perspective of the game slightly different. Maybe you appreciate it different. I'm enjoying the challenge and just enjoying baseball at this stage of my career."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: Metrodome, Minneapolis

Time: 8: 05

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

Starters: Orioles' Rocky Coppinger (0-0, 8.10) vs. Twins' Frank Rodriguez (1-2, 7.54)

Pub Date: 4/29/97

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