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For O's under Hargrove, bunting is welcome sacrifice


It was a seemingly trivial exchange, a routine conversation between a manager and his leadoff man. But it was an exchange that showed how far Mike Hargrove has come, and how he already is making a difference with the Orioles.

Hargrove drew criticism last season in Cleveland for failing to communicate with players. Brady Anderson drew criticism in Baltimore for failing to execute a sacrifice bunt in Texas under former manager Ray Miller.

Well, there was Hargrove before yesterday's game, thanking Anderson for two pivotal sacrifice bunts that the player delivered in Saturday's 2-1 victory over Detroit in 10 innings.

And there was Anderson, telling his new manager that he drew as much satisfaction from the bunts as B. J. Surhoff and Delino DeShields did from their game-tying and winning hits.

The dawning of a new age? Or the false serenity of a 5-1 start?

It's too soon to tell, too early to pass judgment on these Orioles. But it's already clear that Hargrove is John F. Kennedy to Miller's Richard Nixon, a leader capable of performing the seemingly impossible task of unifying Team Agenda.

He doesn't look like the manager who was accused of growing stale in Cleveland, that's for sure.

"I think that any time you have a second chance to do something, that there are certain things you do differently from the get-go," Hargrove said after yesterday's 11-6 victory over Detroit.

"I think there are certain things that I've done -- not major, but just a little bit differently than I did in Cleveland. The luxury of having a fresh start has allowed me to be able to establish those things."

And in one week, Hargrove has calmly but firmly demonstrated who's in charge, whether ordering Anderson to bunt, calming down Albert Belle at first base or using a "B" lineup yesterday to complete a three-game sweep of Detroit.

He's Davey Johnson with tact. He's gaining the respect of players who don't easily grant it. And he's secure enough to admit that he made mistakes in Cleveland, and learned from them.

"I did stay in my office quite a bit last year," Hargrove said. "At times in Cleveland, it kind of became a bunker mentality -- if you didn't stick your head out, you didn't get hammered. That wasn't right on my part. I've tried to get back to who I am. I'm not one to shut myself up."

Perhaps Hargrove's difficult relationship with Indians general manager John Hart undermined his clubhouse authority. Or perhaps he should have used his uncertain status as a rallying point, the way Dusty Baker once did in San Francisco.

It's all in the past now. Hargrove has been liberated from Hart and the Indians players who turned on him. And the Orioles have been liberated from Miller, who never should have survived last April's 6-16 start.

"[Hargrove] just has that quiet sort of confidence about him that players pick up on," Anderson said. "That comes from the success he had as a player and as a manager, and just the type of personality he has. You can tell he's an intelligent, clear-thinking person."

Players didn't hold the same view of Miller, and some interpreted Anderson's strikeout on three feeble bunt attempts in Texas last May 14 as an act of rebellion. Anderson slammed his bat when he returned to the dugout and glared at the manager.

Miller's questionable strategy occurred during the eighth inning of a game the Orioles trailed by two runs. Anderson said he tried to lay down the bunt -- "In my life, I would never not give my best effort" -- but his task was made difficult by left-handed sidearmer Mike Venafro.

Whatever, Anderson executed perfect sacrifices against Detroit right-hander Doug Brocail in the eighth and 10th innings Saturday, setting up the tying and winning runs.

"I've found that these players here are no different than anywhere else," Hargrove said. "Players everywhere have agendas. Managers everywhere have agendas. Writers everywhere have agendas. When things are going bad, little things become huge, huge things. It's easy for things to get blown out of proportion.

"Take a little thing like asking Brady to bunt. Last year, from what I understand, that was a huge bump in the road. I went and talked to Brady today. I said, 'I appreciate the effort you gave that bunt. You got it down. It's a big reason why we won.' He said, 'Hey, I enjoy it. I got as much of a kick out of that as getting the game-winning hit.'

"That's the mentality you want him to have. That says a lot about Brady Anderson -- a lot of good things."

Yet, Anderson said it was no big deal.

"I really have always done whatever I can to help the team win," he said. "I know what's important in baseball. I'm all for winning games however you can win. I'm more than happy to help any way I can."

Again, it's too soon to pass judgment, both on Hargrove and his players. The Orioles finished 67-95 after starting 5-1 in 1987, 79-83 after starting 10-2 in '98. A dozen things can go wrong. At least a half-dozen things will.

Peter Angelos blew it by hiring Miller, then blew it again by refusing to fire the manager until after last season. But at least the owner got it right when he insisted on hiring Hargrove over Grady Little, the preferred choice of one of Angelos' sons and vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift.

Hargrove is talking. The players are listening. The Orioles are winning.

The connection should be obvious.

The manager makes a difference.

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