Jays drain drama out of super series

MIKE LITTWIN

September 22, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

It was not simply a tough weekend for the Orioles.

Think of the poor scalpers.

For days and weeks and months, your hard-working, public-serving, psst-I-got- two-buddy entrepreneurs had spent every waking hour gathering Orioles-Blue Jays tickets to re-sell to the Washington lawyers, who, to our horror, discovered Baltimore sometime last April.

And now this.

After the big blowup in Milwaukee, this three-game series, which begins tonight, has been officially downgraded from climax to anticlimax, from showdown to letdown.

Oh, the Orioles will fill the house anyway. A Camden Yards sellout has become as routine as a statewide budgetary crisis, or an Eli Jacobs lawsuit.

But there won't be the long-anticipated frenzy (or, for that matter, the long-anticipated scalpers' ticket prices). Ask around the office. The boss suddenly has an important breakfast meeting and doesn't want to stay out late. He'll sell you two. Maybe even at cost.

Once, and not so long ago, this was to be the biggest series this side of Murphy Brown. Now, even a Dan Quayle speech on the importance, especially in an election year, of keeping the AL East title in the United States wouldn't help.

Unless. . .

OK, we'll throw in the "unless" word and see how it plays.

Unless the Orioles sweep the Blue Jays and mount one of the two or three greatest comebacks in modern time and unless the NFL issues a formal apology for letting the Colts leave and unless people come to love the Atlanta Olympic mascot and unless somebody can tell me what Maastricht is, the Orioles are history for this season. What I'm trying to say is, the point is moot.

So, now when we watch this series, we'll have to be content to think of what was and what might have been.

First, what was. You can't help but think of that late September weekend in Toronto in the why-not season of '89 when, at the very end, the Blue Jays showed why not. There isn't an Orioles fan over the age of 8 who doesn't remember the Gregg Olson curveball bouncing away from Jamie Quirk or the nail that hobbled Pete Harnisch or how Dave Johnson became Magic Johnson.

After that season-ending series, when the Orioles came two games short, then- manager Frank Robinson said there wouldn't be another season quite like it. And even this season, when the Orioles came back from the 95 losses of a year ago, hasn't quite been the equal to '89.

But maybe it could have been if Toronto had come to town, and the Orioles were, say, two or three games back, or, even better, just a half-game back as they were only 16 days ago. That's the what-might-have-been part.

Actually, this is a more realistic scenario.

The Blue Jays are at least five or six games better than the Orioles. They made sure they were. This is the team that draws 4 million fans and acts like it.

They win a division title, and what do they do? Yes, they go out and buy Jack Morris and Dave Winfield. Morris is 19-5 and Winfield has driven in 99 runs. Where do you think the Blue Jays would be without them? More to the point, where might the Orioles be with them?

The Orioles got Rick Sutcliffe cheap in what has proven to be a spectacular signing (and what had better be a spectacular re-signing). So, let's forget Morris. Instead, just try to imagine Winfield in right field for the Orioles. Try to imagine him in the cleanup spot. Try to imagine what this series might have been with him on the other side.

All I know is that Winfield keeps hitting home runs while the Orioles offense, even with the reawakened Rip van Ripken, stays dormant.

The Blue Jays weren't satisfied, however, with Morris and Winfield. They were on their way to drawing 4 million fans, and the divisional race was still up in the air, and so they picked up David Cone right under the Orioles' noses. Cone has won three games, two of them by 1-0 scores.

For their divisional run, the Orioles made a good deal to get Craig Lefferts, even though he's 0-2 since arriving. It was a good deal, but not nearly as good as the Cone deal.

That's the point, I guess. The Orioles will draw 3.5 million, but they don't often act like it. And yet, as the Orioles front office would argue, look what they've been able to do this year. It has been remarkable.

If you make it to Camden Yards, I suggest you take a few minutes to enjoy what the Orioles have accomplished this season. And as long as you're there, you might also reflect on how much more you're going to have to pay for that same seat next year.

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