Orioles' big bang universally ugly

MIKE LITTWIN

September 21, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

MILWAUKEE -- For once, the Orioles didn't simply fade away.

Instead, they blew up. They blew up real good. You couldn't help but notice yesterday, what with remnants of the Orioles, not to mention the season-that- was, scattered all over the County Stadium field.

You heard the bang. You had to. You heard it all the way from Wisconsin. It was the sound of the official team bubble finally bursting.

It was so scary that Johnny Oates called a team meeting after the game. He told the players they were about to deface the memory of a wondrous season, sort of like taking a Louisville Slugger to Michelangelo's David.

Oates wasn't worried about the divisional race, such as it is. (By the way, who you like, Toronto or Milwaukee?) He's worried about the season getting completely away.

"The idea right here is not to let the last two weeks slip away," Oates said. "Not to just go out there and play out the string. People aren't going to remember that seven-game winning streak. They're going to remember the last two weeks. That's what I told the players. That's how the season is going to be remembered."

The Orioles will have to win a lot of games before anyone forgets what happened here in the sixth inning yesterday. Twice -- two times, count 'em -- the Milwaukee Brewers suckered the Orioles on what is basically a Little League play on the way to what would become an eight-run inning.

It's a simple play. You've got runners on first and third, and the guy from first takes off, hoping to draw the throw, so the runner from third can score. Usually, it's little Johnny on first and little Bobby on third instead of a couple of major-leaguers, and the Little League coach is screaming, and everyone is running, and the score ends up 29-28.

The first time it happens in the inning, the Milwaukee runner takes off from first, Jim Poole throws to great, big first baseman Randy Milligan, who . . . does . . . nothing.

He holds the ball. The guy runs to second, and the runner from third holds. Later, Milligan would say he didn't want the runner from third, who was the go-ahead run, to score on some trick play. Oates, when informed of Milligan's thinking, couldn't seem to believe what he was hearing. You check the runner at third and throw the guy out at second.

One batter later, runners again on first and third, same play. Runner takes off for second, Poole throws to Milligan. The Moose throws to second this time. Cal Ripken throws to third. The runner from third breaks for home. Leo Gomez hits the runner in the back on the way to the plate. He scores, and pretty soon it's 9-3. It could never be 29-28, because it would take the Orioles two weeks to get to 28.

Ugly?

Why stop at ugly?

To say the Orioles had an ugly inning, an ugly game, an ugly weekend is to do them, and your friendly thesaurus, a grave injustice.

Grotesque is good. Horrifying is better.

The only break the Orioles caught yesterday was that the game wasn't televised. But Oates watched. He had to. It's his job.

"It wasn't pretty," he said.

Well, no.

"It was hard to watch," he said.

Well, yes.

"You don't worry about the race," he said. "You worry about playing your best. That's not our best."

Well, no. It's not anyone's best. Those, uh, kids from the Philippines never made any plays like that.

What happened? Maybe the Orioles were shocked by their offensive explosion in the fifth, when they scored three times. It was the first time in 126 innings they had scored more than twice in an inning.

Anyway, the long weekend has been held over, since the Orioles get to play Milwaukee again tonight. The Brewers would love to finish the season with the Orioles, who've lost five in a row to Milwaukee down the stretch, including the three games here. When the Orioles get those three games with Toronto at home beginning tomorrow, they may be reduced to playing a spoiler's role.

Sic transit gloria, as Van Morrison once sang.

The Orioles still have a chance, of course, mathematically anyway.

"Mathematically," Oates said, "we do have a chance. But I was never very good at math in school."

Here's the new math. The Orioles have lost nine of 13. They're 5 1/2 back with 14 games to play. They're in third place, 1 1/2 games behind Milwaukee.

Still, they've had a great season. You can't forget they lost 95 games last year. You especially couldn't forget it after yesterday's game.

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