With ethic, and now bat, Bordick a hit

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Every day, he comes to the park early. Every day, he takes extra hitting. Every day, he drains the most out of his ability.

Shortstop Mike Bordick was a favorite of his new teammates and coaches even after he opened his Orioles career by going 75 at-bats without an RBI.

His work ethic is that special.

His game, too.

"Even if he hits .220, he's worth every penny," right fielder Eric Davis said after Bordick went 2-for-4 with three RBIs in last night's 7-1 victory over Oakland.

"When you're making plays when you're not going good [at the plate], that shows how focused you are."

Still, Bordick waited until the final day of April to drive in his first two runs as an Oriole. Before last night's game, he joked about doubling his RBI total this month.

May Day! May Day!

Bordick did it in one game.

The Maine Masher hit two run-scoring doubles last night, and his former Oakland teammates weren't thrilled to see what they were missing.

"He should be with us," A's first baseman Mark McGwire said afterward. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out we need him."

Well, the Orioles signed Bordick as a free agent, and now manager Davey Johnson views him as a throwback to the team's glory days.

"We talk about the Oriole Way," Johnson said. "The Oriole Way is working hard at it. And he does. He takes it to another level.

"He's the first guy out here and the last to leave. He gives you every bit he's got out there. You win with that kind of guy."

Even when he's in an offensive slump.

Bordick is 8-for-22 in his past six games, but he's still batting only .188 -- 70 points below his career average.

The slow start, the desire to excel for a new club, the pressure of replacing Cal Ripken at shortstop -- any one of those factors could overwhelm a player who lacked mental toughness.

But through it all, Bordick has kept his composure, and saved at least three games with sparkling defensive plays.

"Not for one second did I ever see him let down on the field," Orioles third base coach Sam Perlozzo said. "I don't think you'll ever see him do that."

Bordick just never stops.

"I know the offense was bothering him," Perlozzo said. "But he was out there every day for extra hitting. Finally, one day in Minnesota, he didn't show up. It was like, 'Where the heck's Bordie?'

"We kidded him about it. He came up to me and said, 'Were you guys really looking for me?' I said, 'Bordie, I'm glad you took a day off.' And that's when he started hitting."

Bordick smiled at the coincidence.

Bordick "Crazy, huh?" he said. "Sometimes you've got to give yourself a little break.

"The extra hitting I usually do, me and [hitting coach] Rick Down, it's soft-tossing. It's something I've done every day since I've been in the big leagues.

"It's just a matter of staying consistent with that approach. I'm going to do it every day the rest of the year."

He opened the season 2-for-27, but since then has batted .241. He's lucky the Orioles have played so well. Otherwise, his hitting would have drawn more scrutiny.

"It was a great relief," Bordick said. "It took some attention off some things. Winning solves a lot of problems."

Ask him if he was anxious about replacing Ripken, and Bordick will tell you it wasn't on his mind, that he simply wanted to get off to a good start.

But ask Johnson if Bordick was apprehensive, and you get a different, more expansive, answer.

"Who wouldn't be?" the manager said. "Cal's larger than life. His accomplishments are mind-boggling.

"He [Bordick] has been looking up to Cal, I'm sure, for as long as he's been playing shortstop in the big leagues. He comes over, it's probably he's a guy that he admires a whole lot, he's taking away his spot. It's not easy.

"Cal's trying to make it easy for him. They get along good. But still, you're moving a guy who set a lot of fielding records playing shortstop, and you're moving him over to third base, a position he doesn't particularly like.

"And he [Bordick] is a very sensitive guy. It's a big load. I think we're by it, but the pressure to go out and perform at a high level is tough. You put more pressure on yourself. You press."

That pressure should diminish now that Bordick is finally starting to hit. The thing that most upset him was his failure to drive in runners from third with less than two outs. But he never altered his stroke, never changed a thing.

Since driving in his first run Wednesday, he's 3-for-3 with four RBIs with men in scoring position. He's not a run-producer -- he set his career-high of 54 RBIs last season. But his former manager, Tony La Russa, said he was a hitter who became a tougher out in late-inning pressure situations.

Whatever, the Orioles love him.

And they think he'll get better still.

"I think you're going to see the real, real Mike Bordick when he starts hitting like this," Perlozzo said. "You're seeing a pretty good shortstop right now. I think once he starts relaxing, you'll start seeing some things you haven't seen."

Who would have predicted it?

A free agent is helping revive the Oriole Way.

Pub Date: 5/03/97

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