Pitching, defense are enough to fuel O's pennant run

Bill Tanton

April 01, 1993|By Bill Tanton

The sun, a rare visitor lately, was shining brightly at Oriole Park at Camden Yards yesterday.

The playing field, white with snow two weeks ago, is now green and ripe for baseball. Workers hosed down the ballpark's interior, washing away the last remnants of winter.

The park's one obvious flaw, the seats down the left-field line beyond third base, the ones that faced center field last year, still face center field.

"Over the winter," explained Charles Steinberg, the Orioles' director of public affairs, "we telephoned 4,000 ticket holders, offering to relocate their seats. Some were relocated. Some chose to stay where they are.

"We also did something to help the spectators in the last rows of the terrace seats. Last year they complained that the overhang from the stands above made it impossible for them to follow the flight of fly balls. We installed 55 new TVs there. Now they can see the ball."

Two days ago the plaza beside the renovated Camden Station was practically empty. The few who traversed it walked briskly, collars up against the cold rain. Baseball seemed far away.

But yesterday there was a crowd on the sunlit plaza listening to the Rev. Jesse Jackson as he criticized baseball's owners for their poor record in minority hiring.

The Rev. Jackson will be there with his supporters Monday, he said, not to boycott the Orioles' opening game against Texas, but to picket. They'll be back, he said, for the All-Star Game July 13.

After a six-month lull, our year-old ballyard has come back to life. Exhibition game tomorrow: Pittsburgh at 3:05 p.m. The real thing: Monday at 1:35 with Texas.

Everything is ready. Best of all, so is the ballclub.

The Orioles are going to win the pennant.

OK, they're going to win the half-pennant, as has been the case since the advent of playoffs in 1969.

The Orioles are going to win the championship of the American League East and we're going to have postseason games here for the first time in a decade.

Why am I so sure about this?

No, I'm not predicting that Cal Ripken will come back to his MVP year of 1991, although Ripken has admitted that his drawn-out contract negotiations hurt him last year.

I'm not depending on Glenn Davis to have the first healthy season of his three in Baltimore.

I'm not even predicting that Mike Devereaux and Brady Anderson will repeat their magnificent '92 seasons.

I'm confident the Orioles will win for the best of reasons: because they have the pitching and defense. Any baseball man will tell you that pitching and defense win over a 162-game season.

Before the Orioles' 5-2 exhibition victory over the Cardinals yesterday, Mike Ferraro, the new third-base coach, a man who has been in the game for 30 years, told Fred Manfra on the radio pre-game show:

"I like our chances. Our ballclub has the pitching and defense. The winning clubs I've been with over the years have done it with pitching and defense."

Fernando Valenzuela, essaying a comeback, was asked in Florida this spring why he chose to cast his lot with Baltimore.

"Good defense," he said.

The litany is endless.

We've had good pitching and defense for so long in Baltimore, going back to Brooks Robinson and Mark Belanger, that we're spoiled.

Most Orioles fans don't realize how good the current glove men are. Here's a statistic that tells the story:

The Orioles are aiming for their fifth straight year of committing 100 errors or fewer. In the history of baseball, no other club has gone more than two years without exceeding 100.

The present Orioles pitching staff is also better than most people think. Its 3.79 earned run average last year was the Orioles' best since 1984.

The starters led the American League in shutouts with 16. Three pitchers (Mike Mussina, Ben McDonald and Rick Sutcliffe) pitched more than 200 innings, the first time Orioles pitching has accomplished that since 1982.

The two clubs that finished ahead of manager John Oates' team last year -- Toronto and Milwaukee -- have lost some important people. The Yankees have picked up some. But you can depend on owner George Steinbrenner to screw things up.

The baseball pundits, having studied the field in spring training, are starting to come around to my way of thinking. Several are picking the Orioles.

The new Sports Illustrated, out today, picks the Orioles in the AL East. Baseball Weekly is picking them.

And who knows? Maybe we'll have the first World Series here since 1983.

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