Laura VecseyIT IS A STROKE of luck the way this has worked out. It's probably as much a reason for the Orioles being at the top of the American League East as anything: Miguel Tejada at shortstop and, next to him, Melvin Mora at third base.
There is synergy here, the kind that produces energy.
"That's why we're winning. Everyone is happy. Everyone is joking around," Tejada said.
Yes, and no. They can joke because they are so at ease, so in tune, winning.
Yesterday afternoon, Tejada and Mora headlined a group of Orioles who visited a Latin festival in Patterson Park. It is a new era here in Baltimore, different from Frank and Brooks, from Eddie and Cal.
This is Miggy and Melvin, the left side of the Orioles' infield, one man from the Dominican Republic and the other from Venezuela. They are the emotional engine of this division-leading club.
Speaking of engines, it makes Mora laugh to think about the car Tejada bought for himself.
"You hear the engine in the parking lot [at Camden Yards], and it's the loudest one," Mora said.
"But who needs a Ferrari? For what? You can still only go 65 miles an hour. That's the speed limit in Baltimore. If you have a Ferrari, I enjoy it more than he does. He's in it. He can't see it. I get to look at it," Mora said.
Mora, with the quintuplets and another young daughter, gets dropped off to work by his wife in a minivan, a car suited to Mora's personality and demeanor.
"A car for my babies," he said.
Tejada shrugs, defending his flashy taste and the restraint he must exercise to keep out of trouble.
"I just bought that car because I like it. So I drive 65. That's it. That's OK."
Mora is so smart, he understands the metaphor here.
Tejada is the motor, but he must motor in style, with flash. It's this tendency in Tejada that Mora has been able to help temper. It's subtle, what Mora has done for Tejada. It's the kind of benevolence and generosity and support that makes Mora the Scottie Pippen to Tejada's Michael Jordan.
Those two Chicago Bulls teammates were the ultimate Batman and Robin, but in the 1 1/2 years that Tejada and Mora have played next to each other, Mora has become one of the best third basemen in the American League, adjusting to the new position with far greater speed and ease and effectiveness than Alex Rodriguez has in New York.
Indeed, Mora's stellar play has made it easier for Tejada to be better, defensively but also offensively.
"When he goes to home plate, he can be more relaxed because he don't have to look for all the balls in the hole," Mora said. "When he was shortstop and he had to look to make the plays in the hole, by the time he got to home plate he got tired."
"I make his job more easy. I cut in there. And I'm glad people recognize him because he deserves it. When he was with Oakland, no one recognized him because he was playing in the West Coast. People were sleeping when his games were played. Now, people are watching him every day.
"For me, he's the best shortstop in the game. He's more relaxed. He doesn't have to go too far to make plays."
The effect of Mora picking up Tejada in the hole, charging grounders, cuts down the wear and tear on Tejada's arm and legs. It improves the play of the entire infield, which, with Brian Roberts and Rafael Palmeiro, has become one of the best in the league.
Bench coach Sam Perlozzo said he has tried to drum one thing into Tejada's head: Don't make mistakes that aren't there.
"Last year, I saw his aggressiveness and I left him alone. But later in the year, we started talking about how some of that's not necessary. He needed to pick his spots to try and do something spectacular, so I harped on Miggy about how good his arm is," Perlozzo said.
"His normal, basic feeling is flashy and that style still comes across as to what people see. This guy's a Gold Glover, but he needed to plant and use his arm strength and not jump and make the throw. He's done that several times now and a few veteran players have told me 'I've been waiting for him to do that.' "
"I don't let him stray too far. When he does, I tell him 'You got away with that one.' "
It's true that Tejada has cut down his Omar Vizquel-like antics, relying more on his cannon arm to make the good plays.
Just as he has learned to drive the Ferrari, Tejada has learned that, sometimes, the flashy play isn't worth the risk. Still, he shrugs at any suggestion that the Orioles infield he anchors has quietly become one of the best.
"We're getting good," he said. "We're are going to get better."
Mora, meanwhile, is more decisive:
"For me, he's the best shortstop."
Maybe that's because Mora relishes the chance to make Tejada's job easier, except when it comes to offering him a ride to work in the minivan.
The Ferrari must still roar.