Less talkative Orioles return to Chicago 2-hour chat last trip sparked 37-23 run

July 02, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- When the Orioles returned to Comiskey Park last night it rekindled memories of the lowest point of the season -- and what may have been the turning point.

It was here, on April 27, that manager Johnny Oates closed the clubhouse for a two-hour meeting after a 9-4 loss that left the Orioles with an 8-13 record. "I don't know if it was the turning point," said pitcher Mike Mussina, "but it was the first time we addressed the situation."

At that point the Orioles' immediate goal was to reach .500, and go from there. The idea was to win one series at a time.

ZTC "There was no time frame, we just wanted to get to .500," said Oates, who solicited comments from everybody during his second meeting in two weeks (he held a one-speaker session 14 days earlier in Texas).

Another 39 games would pass before the Orioles reached .500 (June 11) and by then they were in the process of winning eight straight series. Since leaving Chicago, they are 37-23 (.617), including last night's 1-0 victory.

Coming off a stretch of 19 straight games (13-6) against Eastern Division opponents, the Orioles are facing 22 straight against the West. They have moved beyond the .500 mark (42-36), but their goals remain basically the same.

"To get where we want to be, we need another month like the one we just had," said Oates, referring to the Orioles' 20-7 record in June. "We have to continue to keep our focus short-sighted -- one series at a time.

"If we have a good series, great. If we have a bad one, start over again. We had eight good ones in a row, now we're coming off a bad one [losing two of three to Toronto]. We have to remain as upbeat as possible."

There is no question that Wednesday night's 6-0 win over the Blue Jays was important to the Orioles, but to pitcher Rick Sutcliffe the entire series only reinforced a belief. "I think we saw in that series how close we are to that club," he said.

"They beat us 7-2 and we beat them 6-0, both fairly comfortable margins on the scoreboard. But what it came down to is the game that decided the series was 1-0 going into the ninth inning," said Sutcliffe. The Orioles lost that game Tuesday, when Toronto scored twice in the ninth inning.

"Our goal before was to reach .500 and get to within four or five games [of the lead] by the All-Star break and go from there," said Sutcliffe. "We did get to within four games [last Friday], but to be honest, I don't know what to think now.

"We may have to play better this month than we did last month -- but when we get Moose [Mussina] back Friday and Brady [Anderson] next week, we'll be healthy again. To make the move that we made, a lot of guys had to step up and do the job. Now we've just got to stay focused on what needs to be done.

"The way the schedule is, Toronto is just another team -- we play them all the same amount of times. So we have to continue doing the things we've done to get where we are."

As improbable as it seems, the Orioles were nine games under .500 (21-30) at the start of play on June 2.

When the month ended they were four games closer to first place than they were when it started.

But winning 20 of 27 in June wasn't any more impressive than it was necessary. For now, it has preserved hope of being a factor in the division race.

Now comes the tough part -- maintaining the momentum that averted an early-season disaster.

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