Bordick puts together a golden season, one grounder at a time; Consistent bat, glove make him AL award contender


ANAHEIM, Calif. -- At some point in virtually every game a ground ball finds Mike Bordick. It finds him ready to take whatever hop it presents, ready to make an accurate throw and ready afterward to step back to his position with head down regardless of the play's difficulty.

The Orioles shortstop is a stealth candidate for his first Gold Glove and the first Orioles shortstop to win the award since Cal Ripken in 1992.

Bordick, 34, is enjoying a career offensive season. He finished last night's two-hit game against the Anaheim Angels with a .275 average, 20 points above his lifetime mark, with a career-best 70 RBIs and is three shy of last year's high of 13 home runs. His three-run double in the fifth inning was his 44th extra-base hit, pushing him past last year's career best.

Among the game's most remarkable turnarounds can be found Bordick's success against left-handed pitching. For reasons he still doesn't comprehend, Bordick batted only .184 against left-handers last year. (Only teammate Brady Anderson, a left-handed bat, struggled more.) And for reasons almost as hard to identify, Bordick is ripping left-handed pitching at better than a .400 clip this season. While averaging an RBI every 9.6 at-bats against right-handers, Bordick is reaching left-handers for an RBI every five at-bats.

"I never really knew I was having that tough a time against left-handers until somebody told me last year," said Bordick. "I can't really point to what's responsible for the turnaround. I do know Crow [hitting coach Terry Crowley] has helped a lot with my approach. Who knows? Crow's left-handed. Maybe feeding me left-handed flip has something to do with it."

Bordick's season has included little rest. He has appeared in 141 of the Orioles' 146 games, starting all but five. Days off remain a major irritant.

In a crash-and-burn season for this veteran team, so are questions regarding individual goals. More than once Bordick has recited the number of career years occurring within this clubhouse, paused, then shaken his head in bewilderment.

Bordick suffered a tough personal season in 1997, his first with the Orioles, but remembers the exhilaration of a wire-to-wire division title and a berth in the American League Championship Series.

"I don't know if I could say this year is any different than any other year. I now have the attitude of making a play on every ball that's hit to me," Bordick said. "I think, obviously, in some cases there are going to be opportunities to make different kinds of plays. Sometime, that might stick out. You can actually go a week without having to make a diving play because the opportunities aren't there. Then in one game you dive five times."

Bordick's brilliance doesn't include the acrobatic flash of the Cleveland Indians' Omar Vizquel, likely his strongest competition for the Gold Glove, nor the offensive numbers of Boston's Nomar Garciaparra, New York's Derek Jeter or Seattle's Alex Rodriguez.

Without directly addressing his chances for the fielding award, Bordick implies what everybody else freely admits -- the Gold Glove has much to do with visibility, and visibility has a great deal to do with offense.

"Shortstop has really evolved into an offensive-type position," said Bordick. "Everybody mentioned has really great offensive numbers."

Considered a grinder whose year includes two months of spring training, a six-month season and three months of rigorous off-season conditioning with strength and conditioning coach Tim Bishop, Bordick isn't looking for recognition. Respect from within the game will do.

"He's probably the most consistent guy in the league," said Orioles manager Ray Miller.

For Bordick, there are no higher compliments.

"My goal every year is to be as consistent as possible. At the end of a year, you look back on the season and think about things. How hard did I work at it? Did I get everything I could out of each game? If I can answer yes, then I feel good about that year. But it's still too early to get into that," he said.

Pitchers will trade flash for consistency every time. Bordick's nine errors are two more than last season and include several goofball grounders, at least two on the pocked Tiger Stadium infield.

Perhaps lacking Garciaparra or Jeter's arm, Bordick is unmatched in positioning himself properly. Though Vizquel may possess more range, it is Bordick who leads the league in total chances.

"I think the most important thing is preparation," he said. "You have to understand the team you're facing and the tendencies of their hitters. If you go in there unprepared, you're certainly not going to have that edge."

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