Braves keep dealing as O's are reeling

KEN ROSENTHAL

August 26, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

The Orioles are 6 1/2 games out of first place, the Atlanta Braves are 4 1/2 out. Rarely have two clubs in such similar positions offered a more dramatic contrast.

The Braves, coming off a three-game sweep of NL West leader San Francisco, have won 14 of their last 16 games and 28 of their last 38.

The Orioles wished they were as hot.

Wished they were chasing only one team.

Wished they were getting Dennis Martinez to join Greg Maddux, Steve Avery, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine in their starting rotation.

The Braves reportedly are set to acquire Martinez from the Montreal Expos, pending his approval as a player with 10 years of major-league service, five with the same team.

First, Maddux, then Fred McGriff, now Martinez. Not a bad year for Braves general manager John Schuerholz, for those of you still keeping score.

Still, if the Braves complete this trade, don't call your favorite radio talk show in protest. Chances are, Martinez never was available to an American League team.

The likely scenario is that both the Braves and Giants claimed Martinez on waivers, with the Braves earning the right to negotiate a trade as the club with the worse record.

NL players must clear waivers in their own league first before becoming available to AL teams. This isn't David Cone all over again; the situation is totally different.

Cone cleared waivers early last August, when the New York Mets were in contention and reluctant to trade him. He was available to any team, not simply one that lodged a claim.

Toronto, of course, seized the moment when the Mets faltered, acquiring Cone for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson. The Orioles made the ill-fated Craig Lefferts trade four days later, when they were 1 1/2 games back.

Now, with the deficit at 6 1/2 games, it's pointless to attempt a similar deal. General manager Roland Hemond can't make a move unless the margin decreases by the Aug. 31 trading deadline.

Don't count on it.

Chuck Finley and Mark Langston are as nasty as any two left-handers in the game, but the Orioles managed only four hits the last two nights, and were fortunate to win one game.

Yes, they had the tying run at third with two outs in the ninth last night after getting no-hit by Mark Langston for six innings, but little magic remains for a team that is 4-11 since moving a season-high 14 games over .500 on Aug. 9.

Not to ruin the suspense, but in the 25-year history of divisional play, only three teams have recovered from a deficit of 5 1/2 or more games on Sept. 1.

Oh, there are still six more shopping days in August -- plenty of time for Toronto GM Pat Gillick to get himself a Dennis Martinez -- but that's not the point.

The Orioles aren't the '78 Yankees, who trailed Boston by 6 1/2 games on Sept. 1, then went 23-9 to win the division title, thank you Bucky Dent.

They aren't the '73 Mets, who were in fifth place with a 62-71 record on Sept. 1, but won a pathetic NL East race by finishing only three games above .500.

And they sure aren't the '74 Orioles, who were in third place with a 63-65 record on Sept. 1, but went 28-6 down the stretch to overtake New York and Boston.

Of course, things could change if Mike Devereaux (1-for-23) and Mark McLemore (2-for-24) suddenly get hot, if Jeffrey Hammonds rejoins Chris Hoiles in the lineup, if the Orioles put together another 19-3 run, if the Blue Jays and Yankees collapse, if the trade deficit is wiped out, if Jupiter aligns with Mars . . .

The Orioles say if.

The Braves say McGriff.

Nothing against Tim Hulett, Jack Voigt and Sherman Obando, but they were the 7-8-9 hitters last night against Langston, the starting pitcher in this year's All-Star Game.

The veteran utility man and the two rookies entered the game with eight homers in 391 at-bats -- about a week's worth for McGriff, that other guy the Braves traded for.

For the longest time, it looked like Langston might pitch the first no-hitter at Camden Yards, the park Jim Palmer believes is a tougher place to pitch than Fenway, the park Dean Palmer treats like his own personal driving range.

They avoided the no-no, but they can't avoid the inevitable. "We're going to play our buns off to the last out of the last ballgame, whether we're 6 1/2 back, a half-game back, or 15 back," manager Johnny Oates said.

They've had every other kind of injury.

Might as well try sore buns.

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