Orioles hope their slump will dim under New York's bright lights

July 28, 1992|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

Maybe a night on the big town with their wives will be the panacea for what ails the Orioles.

They left for New York early yesterday, an off day they would normally spend in Baltimore before such a short trip.

The brief diversion and a reunion with the American League's Eastern Division couldn't come at a better time for a club now straining to hold on to second place, much less to continue their tete-a-tete with front-running Toronto.

Manager Johnny Oates doesn't view the change of venue from the tough herd in the West -- Texas, Minnesota and Chicago -- to Eastern underlings as anything particularly significant.

"If you're playing well, it doesn't matter who you play and if you're playing badly, it doesn't matter who you play," said Oates. "The only thing significant is that if you win while you're playing your own division, you know you've gained ground on somebody."

Oates is more concerned with the sluggish nature of his own team, which has dropped five of its last six and is 8-12 since July 4, a period in which surging Milwaukee has gained 5 1/2 lengths on the second-place Orioles to pull even at 54-44.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have increased their first-place margin from one to four during the same span despite losing six of eight to the Oakland A's.

"We get good pitching and bad hitting, good hitting and bad pitching and good managing and bad managing," said Oates.

"We just haven't played the caliber of ball as a team that you have to to be a good team. We are straddling the fence of mediocrity right now."

Suddenly, the Oriole Park magic of the early season has disappeared. After a 10-1 start, best ever by a team in a new park, they are 18-21 at home. Conversely, the Orioles have a 25-18 mark on the road since losing four of the first five.

Whether that bodes well for the remainder of the season is anybody's guess. They are heading into a stretch when they play 14 of 20 away from Camden Yards, including four at Toronto's SkyDome in mid-August that could evolve into crucial games for their pennant hopes.

After that, the schedule is in their favor if they can revert to their out-of-the-gate form at home, where the most consistent factor has been sellout crowds.

Oates said the club's 54 victories at this point "are all relative to how things are going. Coming out of spring training, yes, I'd have been happy with that many on this day. Ten days ago, no, I wouldn't have been. Things change.

"At the start, you're just hoping to be competitive. But then the pitching came through, we found [Alan] Mills, some other people emerged. Then you want to turn that hope into reality."

The series opener tonight pits the Orioles against a Yankees team coming off a 5-6 trip on which it didn't pitch or play defense particularly well (13 errors in 11 games).

Ben McDonald is the lone Orioles starter to beat the Yanks this season (9-2 on April 25), one of his eight outings in which he did not surrender a home run. He draws the first assignment.

Then, Arthur Rhodes, the team's most reliable starter the last two weeks, gets Game 2. Two of the three pitchers to lose the first time around at New York, Bob Milacki and Jose Mesa, are no longer Orioles.

Orioles fans will be interested in knowing that Tim Leary (the alleged ball doctor) is no longer in the starting rotation and is mired in the Yankees bullpen.

Mel Hall is coming into the series with seven hits in eight at-bats and Randy Velarde is 14 for his last 22. But the Yankees relief corps, especially, is struggling and the team has not been above .500 since June 8.

Oates said he has been oversleeping lately "because when we lose, I don't even feel like getting up. But I'm not satisfied. If I get satisfied, what keeps them [players] from being satisfied?"

What is important is that the Orioles have been slumping, but they have stayed in a race because the Blue Jays can't seem to turn it into a romp. That kind of luxury doesn't last forever.

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