Fundamentally, Orioles are flawed

JOHN EISENBERG

April 19, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

As David Segui took his place in the batter's box in the eighth inning, his task was only to right everything that has suddenly gone so very wrong with the Orioles. That's all. Everything.

"I was feeling it," Segui said. "Big-time pressure."

He didn't need to get a hit. He needed to drop a bunt on the ground. Perform a fundamental. A sacrifice bunt. Move a runner from first base to second.

"I couldn't go back to the dugout without getting that bunt down," Segui said. "It was going to be real ugly if I didn't."

No doubt. The boos had rained down from the seats at Camden Yards when Mark McLemore failed at the same task two innings earlier, his bunt popping into the air for an easy out.

"Hey, my wife and kid were here today," Segui said. "I'd rather them not have to hear what was going to be said."

A sacrifice bunt. A baseball basic. It was the perfect symbol for the multiple flaws the Orioles have exhibited in these first two weeks of the season.

There is little that hasn't gone wrong, of course. Ineffective pitching. Poor fielding. No timely hitting. Mental errors. Sloppy fundamentals. What's wrong with the Orioles? Hey, what isn't wrong?

It would seem to be a big, ugly, multi-headed monster, but the truth is that you can fit all of the pieces together into one snapshot: That of a team consistently beating itself.

For the Orioles, that's a violation of their first commandment.

"There are certain teams that succeed in large part because they don't give you anything," Brady Anderson said. "Minnesota comes to mind. Oakland. They play tough, sound baseball. It's always a struggle to beat them. And we were like that when we had good years in '89 and last year. That's basically what hasn't been happening [so far this season]."

Base-running mistakes. Missed signs. Sacrifice bunts that don't get down. Scoring chances wasted. Errors. ("Throwing the ball around like a hot potato," manager Johnny Oates said.) Giveaways.

"And we just can't afford them," Anderson said. "We're not like a Toronto last year that can make a mistake or two and still blow people away with talent. We have to do things right."

Why the Orioles suddenly stopped doing things right is, of course, an utter bafflement, running contrary to the club's record of last season and this spring.

"It's weird, is what it is," Segui said. "It looks like we're kind of playing scared sometimes. Not aggressive. Everything was different in the spring. I don't know."

In any case, he found himself at the center of this inner struggle in the bottom of the eighth yesterday, with no outs, a runner on first and the Orioles down one run to the Angels. His predicament was simple: Sacrifice or duck.

After blowing Saturday's game with a spectacular display of bad base running, the Orioles had wasted a 2-0 lead and charged more mistakes to their debit line. Missed signs. Blown chances. More base-running goofs.

"Way too many mistakes," Oates said. "Just not being smart and alert."

Segui delivered, dropping a bunt in front of the plate that pushed the runner to second and set up a rally that provided the Orioles with a 4-3 win.

"I think they cheered the bunt more than a hit," Segui said.

Perhaps, but no one in the clubhouse was particularly happy in the end. They were more than grateful for the win, naturally, considering that they still can count their wins on one hand, but as Cal Ripken so succinctly put it: "We got lucky."

Indeed. The truth is that they won a game they should have lost. A game they gave away and got back on Ripken's mighty 75-foot game-winning pool shot. There was even another big base-running mistake in the winning rally: Sherman Obando failed to score from second on a ball off the right-field wall.

"Not a real well-played game," Ripken said. "You go home, forget about it and come back the next day."

It's easy to say that the Orioles might start turning it around now that a piece of luck has struck them, but that's not the case. The Orioles will start turning it around only when they start getting more of their sacrifice bunts down, when they stop beating themselves. It is a rare game that they will take back after giving it away.

"The thing is," Segui said, "we've got too good a team to keep playing like this. It's a strong team, better than last year's. We can't keep playing like this."

You wouldn't think so. You would think that this is just a strange slump, that the club has too much pitching and defense, that it's all going to end soon. But when?

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