For Oriles, no comparison with '89 Pitching, offense superior in '92

September 06, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- To the casual observer there appears to be a great deal of similarity between the Orioles this year and the near miraculous 1989 team.

But to those who have been around during the transition periothere is almost no comparison. They point to three primary factors in the citing the difference.

Experience. Depth. Talent.

You can arrange the current assets in any order you want, buyou get the same message. The team that was a half-game out of first place before yesterday's games is clearly better.

"I remember us being a really young team in 1989," saishortstop Cal Ripken, the on ly member of that club who really knew what a pennant race was like. "We were very young, enjoyed playing together and had fun winning.

"But now, it seems like we have so much more experience. Anthe pitching staff, especially the starters, is a lot stronger and deeper. Jeff Ballard and Bob Milacki did a great job for us that year [1989], and Davey Johnson won a lot of big games.

"But our pitching is completely different, and a lot deeper. We'rmore experienced offensively and our defense, basically, is the same."

The main similarity between the Orioles now and then is thaboth teams were horrible the year before. And nobody understands that more than Cal Ripken Sr., whose brief stint as a big-league manager ended early in 1988, when the Orioles finished with 107 losses.

A year ago, still depending to a large degree on the 1989 castthe Orioles lost 95 games. The resurgence this year is similar to the one in 1989, but for a different reason.

"It all boils down to pitching," said Cal Sr., who returned to ththird base coaching box after that dreadful experience in 1988. "When you go out and pitch, you've got a chance to win.

"We've got a better club now. And I think Toronto is also bettenow than in 1989."

That year, under Frank Robinson, the Orioles used helter-skelter offense, trying to force the action by running with almost reckless abandon. The outfield was sensational defensively, and there was a high degree of youthful enthusiasm.

Down the stretch, the Orioles relied totally on Ballard anMilacki, hoping the other starters could keep them in games long enough for a better than adequate bullpen to take over. As an indication of how much the Orioles have changed since then, Gregg Olson is the only member of that staff who has played a prominent role this season.

And, until Milacki was recalled from Rochester last Tuesday anMark Williamson was activated from the disabled list two days ago, he was the only pitcher on the staff who was on the team three years ago. Cal and Bill Ripken, Brady Anderson (who was merely a role player at the time), Mike Devereaux, Randy Milligan, Joe Orsulak and Tim Hulett (who joined the club late in the season) are the only position players still around.

Of the Orioles' basic 25-man roster, eight remain. Tharepresents a 68 percent turnover, significantly high for a team that came within two games of winning a division title.

Manager Johnny Oates was the first base coach in 1989, his firsyear on the Orioles' staff. He won't even talk about similarities LTC between that team and this one (possibly because the 1989 team finished two games behind the Blue Jays, the team the Orioles are chasing).

"This is a totally different team," Oates said. "Rather thasimilarities, I'd rather talk about the differences. The biggest [difference] is that we didn't have the starting pitching then that you could believe would be here to stay for a number of years."

Oates rattles off the names of Mike Mussina, Ben McDonaldAlan Mills and Arthur Rhodes as an example of the kind of young power pitchers the Orioles had been missing. Mix in veterans Rick Sutcliffe, who has been a guiding light for the starters, and Storm Davis, who has made the bullpen better, and there is a mix of youth, experience and talent not present in 1989.

"We may have misread our team then," Oates said. "The pitchinisn't even close [to being as strong as it is now]. Jeff [Ballard] and Bob [Milacki] were great that year, especially down the stretch, but we didn't have then what we have now.

There is another unspoken, but not unknown, differenc between this year and 1989. Though they haven't been lower than second place since the first month of the season, the Orioles have not occupied first place since June 19.

Instead they have been nipping at the Blue Jays' wings. Thoswho were around in 1989 know that's not a comfortable feeling on the other end.

That season, the Orioles were in first place for more than thremonths, from May 26 to Aug. 31. At one point, July 18-20, their lead had grown to 7 1/2 games, a fact that Cal, Jr. had forgotten -- but Oates hadn't.

"The one thing that does surprise me is that we never got amany games over .500 as we are right now," said Oates, whose team was 18 over the break-even mark (76-58) going into last night's game.

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