Alomar, newly re-signed Vizquel best DP combo in game
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- When Robby Alomar takes groundballs in practice, it's pure magic. The ball disappears into his glove, but for only a beat. In a flick, he backhands it to second base. He does it again and again. The ball barely gets a sniff of leather.
Alomar, the Cleveland Indians' Gold Glove second baseman, barely works up a sweat.
In the next instant, Alomar bends to his left, snares the ball with his glove and loops the glove behind his back, pushing a perfect lob to second base. He does it again and again. Five times. Ten times. His right hand never touches the ball. Just about everything that pops from his glove is perfectly placed on top of the bag.
It's goofing off, of course. It's practice. But Alomar's magic act demonstrates one reason the Indians figure to be challenging again for the pennant in the American League Central Division.
With Alomar's nine Gold Gloves and the eight that belong to shortstop Omar Vizquel, the Indians have maybe the best double-play tandem in baseball.
They have, undoubtedly, the best to watch.
"We play with fun," says Alomar. "We enjoy the game. And when you have someone playing beside you who enjoys the game as much as you do, some great things can happen."
The two have been playing together for only two years, but you wouldn't know it from watching them play. Vizquel knows Alomar's backhand flick like the back of his own glove. Alomar knows all about Vizquel's penchant for taking the ball with his bare hand.
They each know what the other is thinking before the other guy even thinks it.
"We do things out of the ordinary -- just the way we pass the ball to each other. It's just different," says Vizquel. "But that's our style of game."
Last year, Alomar and Vizquel anchored an infield that included Gold Glove third baseman Travis Fryman. The Indians led the league in fielding (.988 pct.) and turned 149 double plays -- which ranked in the middle of the majors -- even though only two teams had fewer chances.
Earlier this week, the Indians showed how much they want their double-play combo to stick around when they extended Vizquel's contract another two years for $15 million. The best fielding shortstop ever is now signed through 2004. With Alomar committed through 2002, with a club option for another year, the Indians should be strong up the middle for at least a couple more years.
Yet, with all that, it's not the dollars or the years or the stats that separate Alomar and Vizquel from the rest of the pack. It's the style.
"I feel good that people acknowledge the way you play," says Alomar. "I hope people don't take it as a cockiness thing. We just like to have fun."
Back in September 1999, in a game in New York against the Yankees, Alomar and Vizquel showed just how much fun a double play could be. With the bases loaded and one out, Alomar went up the middle and dived for a screamer hit by catcher Jorge Posada. He backhanded it and, flat on his stomach, flipped it from his glove to Vizquel. The shortstop barehanded it about chest high and fired it to first to double-up Posada.
That may have been the most impressive of the double plays the two have turned. But there are plenty of others. Shovels from the glove, barehands on the run, dives, behind-the-back moves on occasion ... Cleveland fans have come to expect the awesome with the Robby and Omar Show.
"Those are instincts," Alomar says, smiling at the memory of the play in Yankee Stadium. "I don't think you can practice those."
Maybe not. But the practice is impressive enough.