7th heaven is hard even if schedule soft

JOHN EISENBERG

August 09, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

The biggest surprise of the day was when the Orioles' Mark Parent lost his grip at the plate in the 10th inning and his bat went flying into the box seats -- and didn't hit Glenn Davis.

No. Wait. That's not right. The biggest surprise was when the Indians' Albert Belle hit a sacrifice fly in the first -- and two runners tagged up and scored. (Figure that one out, on-base-percentage-breath.)

Oh, but wait. That's wrong, too. The biggest surprise of the day -- and we've got it right this time -- was when the Orioles came back to win after trailing by three runs in the bottom of the eighth.

They already had come from behind to win five games since last weekend, and, in all, had won six straight from the Brewers and Indians. To expect another rally, and an undefeated week, was asking too much. There's no perfection in baseball, not even against the dregs of the AL East.

It would have been easy to reconcile a loss and a 6-1 record for the week. After all, the Orioles already had reached their goal, which is to win each series.

But then Parent clobbered a three-run homer to put the Orioles ahead in the eighth, and, after the Indians rallied to tie in the ninth, Mark McLemore doubled and scored the winning run in the 11th.

Hello, perfection.

"It's nice to go through a night without losing a game, much less a week," manager Johnny Oates said. "But we had to do it."

Did they ever. The Orioles couldn't afford to stumble in these seven games. They made up ground on the Blue Jays, Yankees and Red Sox, and they should have, absolutely. It is rare that the schedule offers a hand quite this generous.

Not only were the Orioles at home against the two worst teams in the division, they were matched against a collection of starting pitchers so inexperienced and flat-out beatable that complaints of a conspiracy would be difficult to deny.

Look it up. Five of the seven wins came in games started by opposing pitchers Albie Lopez, Julian Tavarez, Angel Miranda, Rafael Novoa and Jeff Mutis. And no, you didn't buy their last album. Those are five rookies with a combined 29 starts and five wins in the major leagues.

Not exactly Spahn and Sain.

One could argue that the Orioles probably should have won seven in a row against those starters. But, of course, there's no perfection in baseball. And, anyway, a soft schedule, no matter how soft, doesn't necessarily mean help is coming.

Numerous are the contenders who have blown it by failing to win the games they should. One could argue that the '92 Orioles were such a club. The popular perception is that they fell apart in September, but in August they lost six of nine against teams at the bottom of the standings.

"Those games hurt," said Mike Devereaux, whose sacrifice fly delivered the game-winner yesterday. "You have to win the games you're supposed to win."

Harold Reynolds was on the other side for a decade in Seattle. "It's an easy trap to fall into," he said. "The team at the top thinks it should win, and the team at the bottom gets fired up because there's something to play for."

The Orioles fell headlong into the trap a year ago. But not this year, at least not so far. "We're winning the games we should win," Devereaux said.

That doesn't guarantee that they'll contend all the way to October, but it certainly gives them a more legitimate air, particularly since 31 of their 51 remaining games are against teams that began yesterday with losing records.

Anyway, the healing power of beating bad teams was certainly in evidence at Camden Yards this past week. The Orioles had lost five of six at the conclusion of last weekend's Red Sox series, the mini-slump pushing them five games out of first. For a team that had been in first just 10 days earlier, the circumstances represented something of a crucible.

A week later, the Orioles' confidence is at a high-water mark for the season.

"We feel real good right now," said McLemore, who had a homer and two doubles yesterday and is simply the Orioles' best player this year, "the kind of feeling where everything is coming together."

Such optimism is not unfounded. There is production from all over the lineup. The bullpen is on a roll. Ben McDonald is maybe the best starter in the league right now. Rick Sutcliffe is back. Mike Mussina will return soon. Fernando Valenzuela and Jamie Moyer are hanging in there.

Of course, the Orioles have been home a lot lately, and putting the pieces together on the road is never as easy. The Orioles are 16 games over .500 at Camden Yards, three under elsewhere -- and opening a 10-game road trip tonight. Say goodbye to Angel Miranda. And thanks.

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