Kapler one shy of mark

Friday, August 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ARLINGTON – The streak should probably be over.

Rangers center fielder Gabe Kapler admitted as much late Wednesday night in Cleveland. His two-out single in the seventh inning extended his hitting streak to 23 games, one short of the Rangers' team record. It took some help from the Jacobs Field infield, as a routine grounder took a bad hop off Indians Gold Glove second baseman Roberto Alomar's glove.

Kapler, who is truly enjoying his streak and the attention up to now, has realized that to keep the streak alive at some point he might need a ball to bounce for him.

"It's funny, but something like that just hadn't happen yet," Kapler said of his first break during the streak. "But you had to expect it."

Kapler will bring his torrid streak back to The Ballpark in Arlington against Boston on Friday night, where he can match Mickey Rivers' club record hitting streak. A hit Friday would also help him match Arizona's Tony Womack's major-league best 24-game hitting streak this season. Then Kapler can take aim at a 30-game streak, last accomplished by Arizona's Luis Gonzalez a year ago.

There is more to Kapler's amazing run than just the streak. This has been about turning a season around.

He is driving in runs batting in the No. 5 spot behind Rafael Palmeiro. He has 19 RBIs during his hot stretch, a total it took him 54 games to reach before the streak.

"I feel a responsibility hitting behind Raffy," Kapler said.

Kapler is also building a foundation. He brings a .281 batting average into Friday's game, a far cry from his .200 average when he came off the disabled list on June 9. He is hitting .367 during the streak, with six of his 10 home runs.

His willingness to make adjustments with hitting instructor Rudy Jaramillo is the biggest reason for Kapler's surge, manager Johnny Oates said. Kapler's swing is less about his powerful upper body, and more about using an added leg kick to help him get more power.

"This is a credit to him for his mental toughness," Jaramillo said. "It's tough to change your swing at this level with all of the pressure. He's starting to believe in himself."

In a way Kapler deserved some good fortune Wednesday. He came to the plate with the bases loaded in the third inning, and had a strong at-bat against Cleveland starter Dave Burba, working a full count. The next pitch he saw came after a 43-minute rain delay, plenty of time for Burba to come up with a plan to get out the American League's hottest hitter. Kapler, trying to give the Rangers the lead, swung through a fastball.

"When you go up there like that and you swing and miss, it's a good thing," Kapler said. "With two strikes, there's almost no leeway. I was trying to drive the ball and drive in runs."

Kapler is already being asked if the streak is distracting.

"Distractions are part of baseball," Kapler said. "If anything, it's relaxing me. I'm not thinking too much when I'm up in run-producing situations. I think it is [a change from earlier in the season.]"

Todd Wills is a staff writer for the Arlington Morning News.The Rangers' Gabe Kapler tries to equal the franchise record hit streak (held by Mickey Rivers) when Texas hosts Boston (7:35 p.m. Friday on FSN).