O's chances reside at home Success at Camden Yards will be key to pennant drive

September 07, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It will be the law of probability, not the law of averages, that the Orioles have to worry about during the last month of the season.

Now that the division race has officially kicked in (Labor Day ithe traditional starting point), the Orioles have put themselves in a position to make a move. Whether they can pull it off will most likely depend on how they perform at home.

With 16 of their last 26 -- and next 20 -- games at Camden Yards, the schedule should work slightly in the Orioles' favor. Toronto, which has played .500 on the road (34-34), plays 14 of its final 25 games away from SkyDome.

But that scenario will play out only if the Orioles can get on a rolat home. After winning 10 of their first 11 in their new downtown playground, the Orioles have played below .500 (26-28) and are only 9-13 since July 10.

Those numbers would suggest the law of averages is in their favor, but don't try to sell that theory to manager Johnny Oates.

"I'm not a believer that you're due for anything," Oates said.

"Our club is playing a lot better [overall] now than we were before.

"If we continue to play well, we'll win at home. If we don't, wwon't. It's as simple as that."

Yesterday's 5-2 loss to the California Angels cost the Orioles game in the standings as the Blue Jays increased their lead to a game and a half. But it didn't tarnish an otherwise spectacular road trip during which the Orioles won seven of nine games.

"It would have been nice to win the last one," Cal Ripken said"but you have to look at the big picture. We had a good trip, and we picked up some ground.

Ripken is still struggling at the plate, despite showing signs oemerging from a prolonged slump during which he has gone 67 games without a home run. He hit three rocket shots yesterday and four Friday night, but "came away with nothing."

For the weekend, Ripken went 1-for-13, and he hit only .21(8-for-38) on the road trip. "It's encouraging [that he hit some balls with authority] in some ways," Ripken said, "but you'd like to see some results."

A recovery by Ripken in the final month would greatly enhancthe Orioles chances of a strong finish, and there are other signs that point in that direction.

One is that the Orioles have responded to whatever pressure division race dictates. One reason could be attributed to the fact that eight players on the basic 25-man roster went though a tight race in 1989. Another is is an obvious feeling in the clubhouse that this team is good enough to win.

"In 1989 we really didn't know what to expect of ourselves," saicenter fielder Mike Devereaux, whose blazing bat has propelled him into the middle of the American League's MVP race.

"We're more mature now, and we feel we have a good enough team to win."

The just-concluded West Coast trip caused a brief flashback foRandy Milligan.

"I was thinking what it would have been like if we could have had a trip like this back then [1989]," Milligan said. "That's when we started losing it -- on that trip to the West Coast.

"That year [1989] we just weren't supposed to be there," Milligasaid. "This year, I know I have a lot more confidence -- and I'm enjoying it a lot more."

The fact remains, however, that the Orioles still have to find way to make up a game and a half. "What it boils down to," Oates said, "is that we have to win two of the three games from Toronto [Sept. 22-24], and play one game better than they do the rest of the time."

Now that August is out of the way, Oates knows the division rachas really kicked in. "I can feel it in our clubhouse," he said.

So can Rick Sutcliffe, who will be going after his sixth straighwin Wednesday night against the Yankees. "About three or four starts ago, at home, I really started feeling like it was time," Sutcliffe said.

"The excitement builds, friends start calling from all over, eithewanting to come into town or meet you on the road," Sutcliffe said. He can't figure why the Orioles haven't played well at home the last couple of months, but does think that's about to change.

"All of us look at it [playing in Camden Yards] as an advantage,Sutcliffe said. "I know I prefer pitching there, and I expect us to have a good home stand.

"We seem to be coming together, and the pitching has continued to improve. I think the signs point to us winning at home again."

If so, the law of averages won't have anything to do with it. Thiis where the law of probability -- those who win the most continue to win while those who lose the most continue to lose -- comes into play.

Which is why the Orioles would prefer to assign the mossignificance to winning nine of their past 11 games.

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