After being hot, O's must stay cool

JOHN EISENBERG

June 29, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

And on Monday the ballpark finally was quiet.

No disbelievin', people-screamin', impossible-dreamin' rallies.

No 10-rows-deep blasts off the bat of some second-day phenom.

No monster spuds from Home Run Hoiles.

Just a 7-2 loss to the Blue Jays. Just a bad start and a bad finish and a long line of red tail lights in the parking lot by the eighth inning.

In a certifiably big game, played before the biggest crowd in Camden Yards history, the home team offered a very little performance. Exceptionally little. Downright amoebic. Rick Sutcliffe was wild. The bullpen couldn't keep it close. The clutch-hitting bugaboo was back, with two runners left on base in three different innings.

Yeah, you got it: April all over again, in all of its damp, depressing glory. (All together now: "Sh-sh-shakin' all oooo-ver.")

The best moment was a vicious foul ball crashing into the back of a press-box television set in the fifth inning, with not a single injury or electrocution reported by brave ball scribes ducking for cover. Science marches on.

So, it's two losses in a row for the Orioles, their first losing streak in a month, and the forecast for today includes panic in the streets. ("Two straight! They're dyin'!") Funny. Until less than a month ago, the club was just getting warmed up at two losses in a row. Shoot, they could stack up four or five without breaking a sweat. But put together a run like this last one, with 19 wins in 22 games, and everyone gets spoiled.

Of course, it had to happen. The Orioles couldn't sustain that kind of heat. No team can. It was inevitable that the Orioles begin to cool down, return to the land of the mortal. Which means that the critical part of their season is just beginning.

The part that could well make or break them.

Yeah, it's rough. You win 19 of 22 and then you have to start bearing down. But that's the deal.

See, a team's season is not won or lost in the streaks, the hot and the cold, both of which are inevitable. Such passages represent only a small percentage of the season. Baseball is a long-haul gig. Teams spend most of the year playing the margin, surviving, muddling through, pressing on. Trying to win two of three, four of seven, six of 10. Build a record of consistency.

That is the task that now confronts the Orioles. They spent the first two months of the season playing far worse than anyone thought they could and the past month playing far better than anyone thought they could. Now, with their momentum finally starting to ebb, it's time to muddle through. Press on. Be consistent.

It's only maybe the toughest task in sports: surviving the post-winning-streak letdown. Most teams can't. Remember when the Dodgers couldn't lose last month? Have you checked the standings lately? And look at the Tigers after all that hullabaloo, in a free fall with seven straight losses.

Think of it in these terms: The Orioles have gone through the bells and whistles of the miracle diet, drunk all the crazy milkshakes and eaten all the wheat germ and lost all the pounds, and now, as any dieter will affirm, they're facing the tough part: keeping those pounds off.

If they're looking for a role model, they'd do well to look across the field tonight. The Blue Jays, no different from any other team, suffer through their share of losing streaks. Twice this year already, they've lost four straight. But they haven't had a losing month. They were three games over .500 in April, four games over in May, and now, making a move, they're 10 games over .500 in June.

The Jays don't go through piercing highs and shattering lows. They just roll along. And brother, can they roll. Want to crunch some sobering numbers? The Orioles have won 19 of their past 24, but the Blue Jays have essentially checkmated the move, winning 31 of 44. After all those wins, the Orioles still trail the Jays by six games.

Things could be much worse, of course. Hey, they were much worse just a month ago. The Orioles' white-hot run has saved their season, given them reason to wake up in the morning and check the standings. It was going to be a long, hot summer.

Now, it's time for the reality check. The Orioles are chasing a powerful team, probably the best in the league, yes, again. The first five batters in the Blue Jays lineup could well be All-Stars. John Olerud is nothing short of spectacular as he chases .400. The Orioles do have the ability to keep things interesting. But, to paraphrase the commercial, they gotta do it.

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