Barely in time for queen, Orioles get wake-up call


May 15, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

We cleared up quite a few items of importance last night at officially antiquated Memorial Stadium.

First of all, Jose Canseco says he won't be lurking outside the queen's apartment. "She's too old for me," Canseco explained.

Secondly, the queen, always a good sport, will show up for the game tonight, anyway.

Thirdly, people don't seem too excited about the royal visit, with only 26,000 tickets sold in advance for the game. Maybe folks are still steamed about that whole Fort McHenry thing.

Fourthly (is there a word "fourthly"?), the protocol boys are pretty sure that when the queen goes to the dugout to meet the players, she would prefer if no one offered her a plug of Skoal.

Finally, and this is the best news: When the queen leaves (around the third inning is the best guess), the Orioles' season will not be over. In fact, there's some thought that the Orioles' season may be just beginning.

That's a new thought, by the way, and it may not hold. Going into last night's game, the season had gone this way: The Orioles were off to their third-slowest start ever, they had lost their newly acquired slugger to a rare nerve injury for an indefinite period, and they were ranked -- give them credit for consistency -- 12th in runs scored and 12th in runs allowed.

If you wanted a clue as to how things were panning out, you should have heard manager Frank Robinson say before the game that last weekend's one-win, two-loss series in Seattle was the team's best three-game series of the year.

And then came last night -- four homers, a 7 2/3 -inning performance from starter Jeff Robinson and a 6-1 victory over the mighty Oakland A's.

That's just one game, and it isn't. If not for the shocking -- Frank Robinson's word, Randy Milligan's word, even Gregg Olson's word -- blown save by Olson Sunday, it would be three wins in a row. It's still three solid starts in a row. It's a continued awakening of some bats that had been in a long, deep sleep.

This isn't to suggest that the Orioles are suddenly contenders. But there is some hope that by July, there will be reason to come to a game other than the chance to purchase a $3.25 hot dog.

As of now, there's reason to hope that the Orioles could still fashion a workable starting rotation. As of now, there's the chance that some of the Orioles will feel free to join Cal Ripken and Mike Devereaux in contributing something to the offense.

The thing is, that pretty much has to start happening now. I mean, how much farther back can the Orioles slip and still put together a season of any consequence?

"I don't think we can afford to be where we are right now," Frank Robinson said. "But that's where we've gotten ourselves. If we fell back 10 or 12 games, it doesn't mean we're out of it. But that's not the way we're thinking. We're thinking we're going to start making up ground starting now."

It's a manager's job to think in terms of winning divisions, even when the team is in last place a month into the season. More important, though, is for the Orioles to make some progress this season. There are so many positions unresolved, so many questions unanswered. They were supposed to be easier to answer with Glenn Davis' bat in the order to provide power and stability.

Instead, it's Cal Ripken's bat, as of old, that will have to do.

Ripken is not just hot. He has reached base in 12 of his past 14 trips to the plate. He moved into a tie for the league lead in homers with his shot last night, took the lead in RBI and was, in truest baseball fashion, saying he didn't want to discuss what he was doing right for fear of jinxing himself.

"We've been our own worst enemy," Ripken said of the team's season to date.

He, too, is ready to believe, however, that things are about to get better.

"We played good ball in Seattle, even if we lost two out of three," he said. "We pitched pretty well, and we fielded pretty well, and we started to get some hitting. If that was any indication, there's good things to come. And tonight was a real good game."

That's what the Orioles have to work with right now. They can be happy that Craig Worthington got two hits and that Chris Hoiles hit his first homer and that Bill Ripken drove in a run in a key moment of the game. They can be happy that Robinson, who lasted a third of an inning in his last start and lost his place in the rotation, won his spot back.

It's at least a start, and just in time. I mean, who wants to play badly in front of royalty?

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