CLEVELAND — When the television camera zooms in on Roberto Alomar in the Cleveland Indian dugout, it rarely catches the star second baseman laughing, smiling or joking.
Alomar is almost always sitting straight up, alert, his head still and eyes wide open, wearing a look that is intense yet serene, like that of a predator about to pounce on easy prey.
"He's like an alligator," Indian shortstop Omar Vizquel said. "He's a real quiet guy who doesn't say much. He just sits there and watches everything. He gets so focused, he'll find something in a pitcher that nobody else will see. He can see little details, and then attack."
If the assault is as lethal as Alomar's ambush of the Angels Aug. 30-Sept. 2, the Boston Red Sox will have their hands full with the multitalented switch-hitter in their American League division series against the Indians, which begins today in Jacobs Field.
In the first game of a four-game series against Anaheim, Alomar snapped a 5-5 tie with an RBI double in the seventh, then made a spectacular play in the ninth to preserve a 7-5 victory.
Jeff Huson had ripped a grounder to the second base hole, where Alomar made a diving stop near the outfield grass, scrambled to his knees, and, as he fell to his stomach, made a 30-foot, backhand flip to first for the out.
The next night, Alomar doubled and scored in the third, bunted for a single in the fifth, then hit a two-run double during a 10-run eighth inning, as Cleveland rallied for a 14-12 victory.
In the third game, Alomar made a backhanded diving stop of Jim Edmonds' second-inning grounder up the middle and, from a sitting position, threw Edmonds out at first. He singled, stole second and scored in a six-run third, then leaped to snag Garret Anderson's liner in the fifth during an 8-1 win.
To top it off, Alomar showed his power in the final game, snapping a scoreless tie with a solo home run that got the Indians started toward a 6-5 victory.
"Offensively, he can bunt, hit-and-run, go from first to third on a single, steal a base, pull the ball and hit the opposite way from both sides of the plate, hit for power--he can beat you so many ways," said Charlie Manuel, Cleveland's batting instructor.
"But what has really surprised me is his defense. He'll make a great play, then duplicate it three nights later. I always knew he was a good player, but since I've seen him for a full season, I'd say he's a great player.
"In fact, he might be the greatest player I've been associated with, and I've been in baseball a long time."
Alomar, 31, put together an MVP-type season, hitting .323 with 24 home runs, 40 doubles, 120 RBIs, 138 runs and 37 stolen bases to become the first player in the franchise's 99-year history to have 100 runs, 100 RBIs, 20 homers and 30 stolen bases in one season.
Batting third in one of baseball's most potent lineups, Alomar had more walks than strikeouts, 99-96, which contributed to his .422 on-base average; was caught stealing six times, had 12 sacrifice bunts and 13 sacrifice flies.
Alomar hit .392 with runners in scoring position and .328 with runners in scoring position and two out, all while playing a high-caliber defense that is sure to net him his eighth Gold Glove in nine years.
"He's the best second baseman I've ever seen," Vizquel said. "He's so far apart from everyone else. He can make the same play 10 different ways and make it look so awesome. I can't compete with him."
That's saying a lot, considering Vizquel is one of the flashiest defenders in baseball, a shortstop who has won six consecutive Gold Gloves. And Vizquel has seen plenty of second basemen--he has played with 16 of them in the last 2 1/2 years, to be exact.
But when Alomar signed a four-year, $32-million contract to join his brother, Indian catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., in Cleveland last winter, it was clear, as Manuel said, that "the second base position has been cured for a while. . . . Robbie is the full package, a five-plus tool player."
Alomar has one tool that can't be measured or easily defined--instinct.
You see it when Alomar dives for a grounder and flips the ball with his glove hand to second to start a double play, as he did against the Yankees this season, and on the play Alomar made against Huson. Can such a play be taught?
"I even impress myself," Alomar said in a more surprised than boastful tone. "Sometimes I don't think I have a chance to catch a ball and I do. You don't ever envision plays like [the one on Huson]. You just let ability and instincts take over."
Those instincts were shaped by the many years Alomar spent watching his father, Sandy Alomar, play in the major leagues and growing up in Puerto Rico, playing against boys who were older, bigger and better than he was.
"My dad taught me to always expect the ball to be hit to you," Alomar said. "He also said, 'Instead of talking during the game, watch the game. Look at good players, learn how they play the game.'