-- The guy with the ordinary arm, ordinary bat and ordinary speed did something both ordinary and extraordinary at Oriole Park at Camden Yards tonight. By simply failing to make a mistake for the 102nd game in a row, Mike Bordick of the Baltimore Orioles set a major league baseball record for consecutive errorless games by a shortstop.
Baseball loves its streaks -- Cal Ripken and Joe DiMaggio would be mere legends instead of immortals without theirs -- and tonight, in the same stadium where four years ago to the day Ripken sat down and ended his record streak of 2,632 consecutive games played, Bordick made history by not messing up.
When Bordick came out of the game in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 4-2 Orioles loss, the crowd of 32,648 gave him a standing ovation and demanded a curtain call, and the opposing Boston Red Sox clapped or tipped their caps to him.
"It was one of the greatest feelings I've had as a player," Bordick said.
Bordick's errorless streak is now one game longer than the one Rey Ordonez of the New York Mets amassed between 1999 and 2000. Shortstop is baseball's most demanding position, and Bordick's streak represents its ultimate expression.
"It's an amazing feat," Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra said. "People don't realize how often we touch the ball in a game."
The very nature of this streak, which has gone largely unnoticed around baseball, reflects the quiet solidness of character and dedication to craft that fans and teammates find so endearing about Bordick.
When DiMaggio hit safely in 56 consecutive games in 1941, he was doing something proactive: hitting the ball and getting on base. Bordick's streak is the opposite, and it goes to the very heart of defense: His streak is reactive -- the avoidance of mistakes, an anti-streak.
Kids dream of hitting the home run that wins the World Series. They don't dream of turning the 6-4-3 double play.
As such, Bordick's streak is much more closely related to Ripken's, which captivated the nation as Ripken approached, then broke Lou Gehrig's record in 1995. Like Ripken's consecutive-games-played streak, Bordick's streak is predicated upon preparation, dedication and consistency.
"He always wanted to do things the right way," Bordick's father, also named Mike Bordick, said today as he watched batting practice from the Orioles' dugout. "There were a lot of late nights growing up. All the other kids left the field, but he was still out there practicing, taking more grounders."
Bordick and Ripken are inextricably linked in Orioles history, part of a long tradition of excellent shortstops dating from Luis Aparicio and Mark Belanger in the 1960s. In 1997, under scrutiny from media and fans, Bordick replaced Ripken as the Orioles' shortstop when the latter was shifted to third base.
"I don't feel like there was ever a shadow," Bordick said. "Cal made me feel comfortable from day one."
A month ago, Bordick broke Ripken's major league record for shortstops with his 429th consecutive chance without an error. (A "chance" is defined as an assist, a putout or an error.) And last week, Bordick broke Ripken's 1990 American League record of 96 consecutive errorless games by a shortstop.
Like Ripken, Bordick seems to have such a profound understanding of the game, he can anticipate where a ball will be hit. "Some shortstops chase the ball," former Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan said. "He's already there."
But the parallels between Ripken and Bordick end with their minds, their Orioles uniforms and their excellence. Physically, they could not be much more different. Ripken was huge, 6 feet 4, 220 pounds, the prototype of the new breed of modern shortstops such as Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.
Bordick is 5-11, 174, a throwback to an era of smaller, more agile and lighter-hitting shortstops.
Ordonez, a small man like Bordick, is still another type of shortstop altogether -- a flashy, spectacular defender whose plays routinely wind up on highlight reels. Still, Bordick has as many chances per game, on average, than any of them.
Bordick's lack of size, pizzazz and obvious physical skills mean he must work harder than the others to be good. "He has to play the position with more intensity," said Orioles third base coach Tom Trebelhorn. "He has to get to the ball quicker and get rid of it quicker. And that brings a whole additional range of potential errors into play. It makes the record even more remarkable."
Said Flanagan, now a television analyst for the team: "He attacks the ball. Some guys who are gifted with stronger arms, they can lay back and trust their arms to get the guy out.
"Bordick can't afford to do that. He has to beat the ball to the spot."
Bordick's dedication to his craft is on display every day during batting practice.
At 33 seconds past 5 this afternoon, about 10 minutes into batting practice, Bordick raised his glove to signal to infield coach Sam Perlozzo that he was finished taking grounders. At first base, Tim Bishop, the Orioles' strength and conditioning coach, looked at the giant scoreboard clock and smiled knowingly.
Every day, it's the same. Perlozzo hits fungos to him beginning a few seconds past 4:50 p.m., when the Orioles begin their batting practice. Bishop stands on first base and takes Bordick's throws. Bordick takes one round of grounders hit right to him, then one round to his left, then one round to his right, then another round right to him.
"And then on the last one," Perlozzo said, "he wants one hit up the middle, so he has to run and catch it, step on second and throw to first for the double play."
And that is how it ends, every day. "Every time," Bishop said, "I look up, and invariably it's almost right to the second -- a few seconds after 5 o'clock on the nose."
Once the game begins, it is the same attention to detail.
"In an average game, there might be 150 pitches," Flanagan said. "That means in 102 games there's, what, a little over 15,000? [Bordick] has been set up the same way for all 15,000. He's incredibly repetitious. That's why he's so good."
Bordick said, "Preparation is crucial. When you take ground balls before games, you try to keep that as much game-like as possible and try to get your mind-set for the game."
Most nights, the Orioles pray for every ball to be hit to Bordick. But for the past couple of weeks, since Bordick's streak began to creep into their consciousnesses, they pray it is hit somewhere else.
"I'm a basket case," Perlozzo said, "anytime the ball gets near him."
Of Bordick's four chances tonight, the toughest by far was the last. In the ninth inning, Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek shattered his bat on a fastball, and the barrel and the ball came at Bordick.
"It made everyone's stomachs turn over," said Orioles Manager Mike Hargrove. "I almost puked."
But Bordick dodged the barrel, grabbed the wildly spinning ball and made an off-balance throw to first base for the out.
He was perfectly ordinary and ordinarily perfect again.