Sockers' playoff edge is having been there so many times

The Inside Stuff

April 16, 1992|By Bill Tanton

One big advantage San Diego has over the Blast in their Major Soccer League playoff series, with game No. 4 tonight at 7:05 at the Arena, is experience.

The perennial champion Sockers, who lead the series, two wins to one, are loaded with players who have been in four or five championship series.

Baltimore starts four players with almost no playoff experience -- Jean Harbor, Kevin Sloan, Kris Kellerman and Joe Koziol. Koziol, in two years with Cleveland, did get in one playoff game.

That's why San Diego's 5-4 win in overtime here Tuesday night came as no shock to veteran MSL watchers, even after the Blast tied the game at 4 on Rod Castro's goal with 28 seconds left in regulation.

One veteran who could be on the verge of breaking loose is Tim Wittman, the Baltimore native who played 10 years with the Blast plus this season with the Sockers.

Wittman hasn't scored a point in the first three games of this series. Nevertheless, the Calvert Hall grad has proved a point to Blast management.

One reason the Blast did not bring Wittman, 28, back this year was the frequency of his injuries and games missed.

"Believe it or not," admits Blast owner Ed Hale, "for the first time in his life Timmy has played the whole season without an injury."

Hale, in response to the puny turnout of 4,148 for Tuesday's game, told MSL commissioner Earl Foreman that something has to be done to shorten the season.

"Once the Orioles season opens," says the Blast owner, "people's minds are on outdoor sports."

Lest we forget, something has been done. The MSL cut back its season this year from 48 to 40 games. The owners are not likely to approve fewer games than that.

The only way to end the season earlier would be to start it earlier. This year it opened on Oct. 19. A September start would suit Baltimore, which has no pro or big-time college football, but MSL cities such as Dallas, San Diego and Cleveland would rather start in December -- after football season.

"Our attendance," says Blast vice president of soccer operations Drew Forrester, "is largely group sales-driven.

"We didn't think we'd be in the playoffs until April 4. We didn't have the dates to sell to groups. San Diego knew in February they'd be in the playoffs. Still, they only drew 6,500 for each playoff game out there."

* It was shocking to see Cal Ripken make two errors in the Orioles' 6-5 loss in Boston yesterday. Heck, the guy made only three errors in all of 1990.

But it wasn't nearly as shocking as the day (July 28, 1971) when Brooks Robinson made three errors in the same inning against Oakland, contributing to two unearned runs. Frank Robinson got Brooks off the hook with a three-run homer in the ninth off Rollie Fingers that gave the O's a 3-2 victory.

* The reception at the White House yesterday for the NCAA's basketball champions -- Duke's men once again, and Stanford's women -- carries a strong message, to wit:

You don't have to cheat or recruit kids who don't belong in college to win. Duke and Stanford are two of the country's most prestigious institutions.

* Mike Mussina, who will pitch for the Orioles this evening against the Red Sox in Fenway, graduated from Stanford in 3 1/2 years and says of his alma mater: "They don't give the athletes a break out there. They have to work just as hard as anybody else."

* Charles Barkley has a nerve calling 76er GM (and Baltimore native) Gene Shue "a clown." Who's a bigger clown in sports than Barkley? The Sixers have been trying all year to trade Barkley, but nobody wants him. The whole NBA has seen Barkley's childish behavior drag the Sixers down.

* One of the best-looking high school pitchers I've seen is Patterson's Gary Burrows. He's 5-0 after beating Gilman this week. In a weather-shortened five-inning game against Walbrook, Burrows had 16 strikeouts. That's right -- 16 strikeouts in a game that should have required only 15 outs. One came when a third strike got by the catcher and allowed the batter to reach first.

Burrows hopes to sign with a big-league club after graduation in June. "That," says Gary's father, "is all he thinks about."

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