O's are caught up with all their work

JOHN EISENBERG

July 21, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

It was approximately 9:36 last night at Camden Yards when the White Sox went ahead of the Blue Jays -- on the out-of-town scoreboard.

Out in the Orioles' bullpen, where they keep track of the other games as though there was money in it, the customary shout went up.

"Work, Chicago!" they cried.

Ten minutes later, the Mariners went ahead of the Yankees. A huge seventh inning was brewing up in the Bronx.

One run. Two. Four. Six.

"Work, work, work!" they cried.

Work as in . . . well, what, exactly?

"Sort of, well, 'Way to work,' I guess," Todd Frohwirth, official bullpen translator, explained. "Or maybe sort of, like, 'Keep working.' I'm not sure. We don't really talk about it, you know. We just say it."

Work.

A bona fide piece of major-league chatter. The real thing.

"The only word," said fellow fireman Jim Poole, "in our vocabulary."

And what a night this was for work. For the longest time it appeared that the Orioles, though ahead of the Royals from the second inning on, were once again going to end up behind the division co-leaders, the Yankees and Jays, whom they trailed by a half-game. Both led early.

But then the Mariners went to work. And then the White Sox went to work. And then the Orioles went to work, finishing off the Royals with a six-run eighth inning.

And, suddenly, this was a night of celebration, sort of. At the ringing of the last out of Ben McDonald's masterful shutout, the Orioles were in first place for the first time in 13 months.

Work!

"Not a bad place to be," closer Gregg Olson said in the loud clubhouse, "especially considering the alternatives."

Especially considering that the club was 10 1/2 back not that long ago. And looking utterly lost.

Ancient history now.

The Orioles have been baseball's best team for seven weeks, winning 32 of 45 games. The hitting has been hot and timely. The pitching has been brilliant. The fielding, as always, has been peerless.

It's the classic recipe for wiping out a double-digit deficit.

What else is there to say except that the Orioles have all cylinders, um, working right now. From the big names in the spring training blueprint. Devereaux. McDonald. And the big names in the new blueprint that has created itself these past seven weeks. Fernando. Hoiles.

Every night, it seems, there is production from both blueprints. Last night it was McDonald, who out-pitched David Cone in a splendid duel, and Harold Baines, who drove in three runs.

"Everything," said McDonald, who struck out nine, "was working."

Memo to those wondering if the Orioles need to add a pitcher via trade for the stretch run: They've added a pitcher. Didn't you notice? They've added Ben McDonald. The one they supposedly drafted in 1989.

"That is the best I've seen an opposing pitcher throw against us all year," Cone said.

The Orioles' big eighth made it easy for him to finish the complete game, and while the Royals were batting in the ninth, the scoreboard finalized the news: The Jays and Yankees had lost. The final scores were posted within seconds. A perfect night for the scoreboard watchers.

McDonald's last out came moments later, and the JumboTron scoreboard went off like a firecracker, first showing the Orioles' logo leapfrogging ahead of the Jays and Yankees, then the division standings with the Orioles on top, then the words "First Place" in giant type.

Not to get too excited.

It's a terrific talking point for the fans, of course. But as the ones in the ballpark exited noisely for their cars, the Orioles were in their clubhouse, shrugging.

"Doesn't mean anything to me," Mike Devereaux said. "The only time we think about it is when you guys ask us."

Said Olson: "If we were eight games up or something, that would be interesting. But we're a half-game up on two teams in the middle of July. So, you know, we're not exactly running away with it."

It can help a team's psyche, though. There's no doubt about it. Being in first place helped the '89 Orioles, long shots who started believing in themselves when they held onto the lead for months.

Maybe that feeling would happen again. But it's probably not needed. This team is different. Older. More experienced.

Better.

"Don't get me wrong: I'm happy to be in first place," Olson said. "But we need to go home and get some sleep. We've got a game tomorrow. A day game."

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