Orioles are on road, but to where? 10-day trip could say a lot about club

May 25, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- No one said it was supposed to be easy, but the road that lies directly ahead figures to be particularly rough for the stumbling Orioles.

They arrived at Yankee Stadium last night to begin a grueling 10-game trip that will take them from New York to the West Coast without even the luxury of a travel day. It also could take them to previously unplumbed depths if they do not pull out of their early-season tailspin.

The immediate future does not seem bright, not if the drowsy offensive lineup cannot find some hidden spark and punch its way out of sixth place. The prospects for an offensive awakening seem even dimmer when the Yankees start off with left-hander Jim Abbott on the mound and it's all uphill from there.

Tonight, the Orioles face right-hander Bob Wickman, who is 10-1 dating back to the day he was called up from the minor leagues last season. Tomorrow night, the Yankees come back with Melido Perez, who was considered the ace of the staff until the trade for Abbott. Thursday, it will be veteran right-hander Mike Witt, who has won three of his first four decisions since making a Fernando Valenzuela-like comeback from two years on the sidelines.

The Orioles can counter with some good pitching, but they remain among the most docile offensive clubs in baseball, averaging fewer than four runs.

There is room for hope, of course. There is always that. Center fielder Mike Devereaux has reported great progress in his recovery from a sprained sternoclavicular joint and could be ready by the weekend. Designated hitter Harold Baines has embarked on a rehabilitation assignment that could bring him back to the major-league lineup for Thursday night's series finale with the Yankees.

If all goes well, manager Johnny Oates could have all of his key offensive players available by the time the Orioles return from the 10-day, 10-game trip, but one question remains: Will the Orioles still be a viable division contender by then? For that matter, are they one now?

There still is plenty of time to get things together. It is only late May and the club could get back into contention by gaining a couple of games in the standings each month. But it comes down to a matter of direction, and the Orioles have been going in the wrong one.

"Time moves on," general manager Roland Hemond said yesterday, "so it's important that you start winning. The trouble is, playing .500 ball, you're not gaining any ground. That's why you start setting the goal of winning each series."

The alternative is a trip that easily could push them another three or four games out of first place.

They will face good pitching throughout the series at Yankee Stadium and it doesn't figure to let up in California, where the Angels also are getting big performances from throughout their starting rotation.

Abbott and Co. give way to hot left-hander Mark Langston and a rotation that has been very effective in spite of the controversial trade that sent Abbott to New York.

The Angels also feature a youthful offensive lineup that is generating runs and excitement at a time when the Orioles are generating only disappointment and frustration.

The West Coast segment of the trip illustrates how the power structure in each division has been turned upside down this year. The Oakland Athletics are in much the same position as the Orioles after seven weeks of play, but they don't figure to provide a breather at the end of the trip.

The A's have slipped into the lower reaches of the American League West standings on the weakness of a starting rotation that was decimated by free agency last winter, but they have the kind of impact offensive players -- Mark McGwire and Ruben Sierra -- that the Orioles can only dream about.

The Orioles can only hope to hang tough long enough to get healthy. If they can't, this grueling trip could be the beginning of the end.

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