Roberts plays big role for Junior Circuit
Run on historic homer, defensive mishap both key plays for AL
SAN FRANCISCO -- Throughout his long and illustrious Hall of Fame career, Cal Ripken had the opportunity to see a number of top Orioles prospects, and occasionally when one of them provided a positive first impression, he'd check to see if their Minor League stats matched their raw skills.
After getting his first look at Brian Roberts during his final Spring Training in 2001, Ripken wanted to know more about this gritty young second baseman.
"You could tell that he could hit and run, and that he had good instincts," Ripken said before the start of Tuesday's All-Star Game at AT&T Park. "You can never really project what's inside them. But I knew he had the raw talent and that he did something that stood out a little bit.
"I didn't go back and look at everybody's stats. But I remember going back and looking his up. I needed to know something more about Brian Roberts. That usually meant he was doing some that stood out in my mind."
By June of that same year, Roberts had gained a lasting spot in Baltimore and the unique opportunity to say that he was there for the final 3 1/2 months of Ripken's historic career.
"One of the biggest highlights of my career is having had the chance to play alongside him," said Roberts just a few hours before he nearly factored heavily in what would have been the American League's first loss since '97.
Had Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez not regained his control long enough to register a game-ending bases-loaded out, which secured the AL's 5-4 win over the National League on Tuesday, Roberts wouldn't have been the only one to blame.
But there's no doubt that his inability to secure the Nationals' Dmitri Young's two-out grounder -- which was generously ruled a hit -- nearly led to disaster. Alfonso Soriano followed with a two-run homer off Mariners closer J.J. Putz, who issued a walk and exited only to watch Rodriguez give up two more free passes to load the bases.
Fortunately for Roberts, Rodriguez ended the madness by getting the Phillies' Aaron Rowand to hit a lazy fly ball to Alex Rios in right field.
"It's a play that you can make," Roberts said. "You don't want to lose that way. But it wasn't going to be the end of my life."
With disaster averted, the historical place Roberts gained on Tuesday night came courtesy of the fact that he scored one of the two runs that were accounted for by Ichiro Suzuki's inside-the-park homer in the fifth -- the first in All-Star Game history.
It helped Suzuki gain MVP honors, and it also gave Roberts a lasting memory of his second All-Star Game appearance. The 29-year-old second baseman, who was the Orioles' lone representative, had reached base via a one-out walk. He grounded out in his final two at-bats of the evening.
"There's been a lot of All-Star Games," Roberts said. "So for that to happen, it's kind of cool."
It's fitting that 5-foot-9, 175-pound Roberts' place in history came courtesy of somebody like Suzuki, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds.
During his youth, Roberts' favorite Major Leaguers were less-than-physically-imposing guys such as Ozzie Smith, Vince Coleman and Walt Weiss, who played at the University of North Carolina for his father, Mike Roberts.
"Those guys that were 6-foot-4 and 230 [pounds], I couldn't really relate to them," Roberts said.
When Roberts arrived in San Francisco on Sunday, he was determined to savor his All-Star experience. While the All-Star selection he received in 2005 will always be special because it was his first one, this was one that was earned through countless hours of rehab and determination.
After dislocating his left elbow and needing reconstructive surgery at the end of the 2005 season, there was reason to wonder if he'd regain the strength and skills that had allowed him to become one of the AL's top second basemen.
While hitting .286 with 10 homers and a .410 slugging percentage last year, Roberts slowly regained the successful form that has been on display for most of the past two months.
Since May 5, Roberts has hit .347 with four homers, a .479 slugging percentage and a .423 on-base percentage. These numbers, which come over a span of 59 games, are similar to the ones he produced in 2005, when he hit .314 with a .515 slugging percentage and a .387 on-base percentage.
Throw in the fact that Roberts has an AL-best 27 stolen bases, which puts him on pace to shatter the career-best mark (36) that he set last year, and it's obvious that he's at least as much of a versatile threat as he was before he endured the ugly elbow injury.
"I think he's come back better than ever," said Ripken, who as history has shown, has probably checked the numbers.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.