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They All Want to Go See Cal, but Alomar Also a Real Deal

Everything is going so poorly for Angel left-hander Jim Abbott at the moment, switch-hitter Robbie Alomar of the Baltimore Orioles is batting left-handed against him.

“I don’t know if I want to talk about it,” Alomar said after Sunday’s game at Anaheim Stadium, having raised his average to .399.

While others discuss the breaking of Lou Gehrig’s iron-man streak by Cal Ripken, or the strong possibility of someone breaking Roger Maris’ home run record, Alomar is quietly trying to become the first major leaguer to hit .400 since Ted Williams, 55 years ago.

He slid headfirst into first base for a single Sunday . . . with the Orioles leading, 14-0.

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Alomar also batted left-handed against a lefty, and sent a three-run homer screaming into the right-field seats. It was the second time in two weeks Alomar had homered off Abbott from that side. He went four for four on May 21 at Camden Yards, then three for five this time, extending his season hitting streak to 18 games.

“I see him easier that way,” Alomar said of Abbott, as though revealing a trade secret. “He was getting me out from the other side. So me and [Cleveland’s Carlos] Baerga turned around left-handed on him, and I think maybe one or two other guys.

“I did it against [Fernando] Valenzuela, only he’s not in our league any more.”

Something about Abbott’s delivery persuaded him to bat that way.

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Alomar began to say more, then repeated: “I don’t want to say why. Let’s leave it at that.”

The great hitters have their methods. They keep books. They study film. They experiment. Alomar, a six-time All-Star, has succeeded in batting .300 or better for four consecutive seasons, and now he’s flirting with .400 in his first year as an Oriole.

Tony Gwynn, the player deemed most likely to hit .400 since the heyday of Rod Carew and George Brett, recently anointed Alomar--once a teammate in San Diego--as a legitimate threat. Gwynn said, “Robbie’s got the perfect temperament to have a year like that. Other guys are getting the notoriety as the great hitters today. Deep down inside, Robbie will want to prove he’s as good as they are.”

Alomar’s headfirst hustle in the seventh inning of a 14-0 game was typical of his desire. Remember that one in October if he does reach .400.

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All the commotion in Baltimore over the proposed move of Ripken from shortstop to third base served a useful purpose to Alomar for a while, deflecting attention from his own exploits. His 39 hits in April broke a club record for that month. He had 40 more in May. Since being dropped from second to third in the order 20 games ago, Alomar has been averaging better than .450.

Of Alomar’s batting left-handed against a lefty, Oriole Manager Davey Johnson said: “I’ve seen guys do that to Tom Glavine too. Those pitchers who throw those dead fishes away from you, the great hitters find a way to fight back.”

The great players find a way, as Ripken did at the presumed threat of losing his usual spot at shortstop.

“Oh, I don’t think a player like Cal Ripken needs a wake-up call,” Johnson argued.

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Fact is, though, that on a trip that began with a three-homer night, Ripken is 11 for 20 with five home runs. He yanked a 420-footer Sunday as the first batter Angel reliever Shad Williams faced.

Ripken was removed from the game--a headline unto itself, most days--for the sixth time this season. Johnson replaced him at short with Manny Alexander in the seventh inning, shaking Ripken’s hand and saying to him: “Great road trip.”

That seemed to amuse Ripken.

“Yeah,” Ripken said in the Oriole clubhouse. “That was his way of taking me out. ‘Your road trip’s over.’

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“I said, ‘Thank you,’ and came in here.”

Thursday was the 14th anniversary of Ripken’s iron-man streak. Barring a disaster that the population of Maryland would equate with World War III, Ripken’s streak will reach 2,215 on June 12 at Detroit, where he will tie the worldwide mark of Japan’s Sachio Kinugasa.

“Everything has a way of fixing itself,” Ripken said. “Hitting gets the most attention, so it has a way of ending any discussion over changing positions.”

In other words, Ripken will continue at shortstop, and continue to bat right-handed.

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