Running on empty, O's run up errors

JOHN EISENBERG

May 24, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

Did you hear the one about the Oriole who went to the doctor the other day?

"Doc," he says, grimacing, "I got this thing bugging me real bad."

"Yeah, I know," the doc says, "but two aspirin can't cure a curveball."

Ah, but we shouldn't be laughing. The Orioles can't help that they're so lousy. They're fundamentally challenged.

They can't run the bases. They can't hit in the clutch. They can't steal bases or manufacture runs. They can catch and throw, but only periodically.

The one thing they can still do is sell tickets by the barrel, no matter how high prices go or which direction seats point. Larry Lucchino for MVP!

But otherwise, the fundamental aspects of the game are eluding them. The perception around town is that they're 10 games out because of a basic lack of hitting. It's not nearly that simple.

"For every mistake you see," manager Johnny Oates said after yesterday's truly astonishing 9-1 loss to the Brewers, "there is at least another that you don't see, that you don't recognize as a mistake."

Which means we could use all of the fingers and toes in the bleachers to count, and still come up short. Because there are plenty of mistakes we can see just fine.

They were all on display yesterday for the largest crowd in the brief history of Camden Yards. Bungled base running. Errors. Dead bats with runners on base. (A fine name for a punk band, huh?)

This wasn't a loss so much as a "Saturday Night Live" routine. Leonard Pinth Garnell, monocle and British accent and all, bringing you another exceptional performance of "Baaad Baseball."

The Orioles didn't fool around. They committed an error on the first pitch of the game. Pat Listach hit a single to left. Mark Leonard fumbled it. Leonard plays for the Orioles, incidentally.

Anyway, the error was the first of five the Orioles would ring up in the next three hours. They also treated the big crowd to two wild pitches, a hit batter, an 0-for-7 (with three strikeouts) gag order with runners in scoring position, and this classic game totals line witnessed in the top of the sixth: no runs, four hits, four errors.

The Brewers, having a similarly smelly year, did their darndest to keep pace. Their first inning was a classic. Their first four batters reached base. None got as far as third. Two were caught in rundowns off second. ("Really, really baaad baseball.")

Then Brady Anderson led off the Orioles' first with a sharp line drive to left that the Brewers' Kevin Reimer dropped, as if the ball had a nuclear glow.

"The first couple of innings were pretty much a clinic on how not to play the game," Oates said. "They seemed to get things straightened out. We didn't."

With two outs and Tim Hulett on first in the Orioles' second, David Segui singled to center. Hulett stopped at second, then chugged on toward third when Brewers center fielder Darryl Hamilton fumbled the ball. (See, they tried their best.) Hulett made it to third, but Segui got caught between first and second. Inning over.

How many base-running mistakes have the Orioles made? There aren't enough fingers and toes in the bleachers. To call them inept is being kind. They're the worst base-running team in the majors. Why, let's make that the title of the club's '93 highlight film: "Three Men on Third."

The base running had to bow to the defense as the true star of yesterday's episode of "Baaad Baseball," though. There was Jeff Tackett throwing a ball into the outfield. There was Alan Mills fumbling a squeeze play. There were two Leo Gomez throws pulling Segui off first base. There was Leonard's fumble on the kickoff.

It passed as a surprise because the club was ranked fourth in the league in defense and generally doesn't throw the ball around. But Oates was happy to include the defense in the ingredients for this lousy season. He sees plenty of boo-boos.

"Just [not] knowing where to go or when to throw the ball," said the palpably disgusted manager. "And some of the players have been around six, seven, 10 years and still don't get it."

Even if the Orioles had committed not a single error, though, a loss was inevitable. This was one of those days when they couldn't have pushed a runner around the bases getting walks on ball three.

You might be surprised to learn that they can get runners to first and beyond: Only three teams in the league have left more runners on base. But the Orioles are hitting precisely .189 with two outs and runners in scoring position.

"The coaches are coaching their butts off," Oates said. "There comes a time when the players just have to do it."

And while we wait, and wait, on the next episode of "Baaad Baseball. . . ."

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