Dead? Out of it? Not these Orioles

JOHN EISENBERG

September 06, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

And you gave up on them.

Go ahead, admit it: You know you did. Hey, it's no crime. Everyone did. Everyone gave up on the Orioles.

You didn't necessarily stop watching, or cheering, or hoping they'd start something. But when they were 6 1/2 back with five weeks to go, chasing four teams, did you really think they had a shot?

C'mon. Your nose is growing.

Anyway. Well. They did have a shot. And, by golly, they're shooting it.

Check it out: Summer is dead and the Orioles are anything but. Incredible.

Just when you thought it was safe to turn your attention to football, expansion, NAFTA, whatever, here come the Orioles blowing back in the division race faster than you can say Blow Jays.

They did it on the sneak, the rascals. While you were sleeping. In the middle of the night. On a West Coast trip. They won six straight games against the Angels and A's, the sixth a 9-2 win in Oakland yesterday. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays, playing the same teams, went 2-4.

That's all it took. Suddenly, a lost season was found. Suddenly, the Orioles were flying home last night just 2 1/2 back.

That's 2 1/2 back with four weeks to play, which means anything is possible.

Two-and-a-half back with 16 of their last 25 games at Camden Yards, where they have played .630 ball in '93.

That's not just an outside shot, folks. That's a C-H-A-N-C-E. A real one.

It would be better to be 2 1/2 up, of course, but don't even begin to complain. A week ago, for about the 34th time this season, the Orioles were on the verge of falling out of it. But their seemingly impossible circumstances -- behind four teams -- have cleared up nicely, thank you.

The Red Sox and Tigers are as dead as disco. The Sox blew it at Fenway Park, of all places, losing 12 of 14 when it mattered. The Tigers were never more than a stretch. Both teams steamed by the Orioles, but they were just fads.

The Orioles also had the look of a fad after that eight-game losing streak last month, but they're nothing if not dogged. They're the neighbors who won't leave your Labor Day barbecue. They're your mother-in-law in the next bedroom at the condo you're renting at Ocean City.

They won't go away.

It doesn't figure. They're the team that had the injury excuse lined up for the winter. The team with the front office too paralyzed to make a bold late-season move. The team relying on Pags, Voigt, Moyer. The team that doesn't have a closer, and may not. The team that seemed too streaky.

But they do have three dependable starters (Mike Mussina, Ben McDonald and Jamie Moyer), which is more than the Blue Jays can say, and which can keep any team alive. And, through their many rises and falls they have managed to keep beating teams they're supposed to beat.

Why are the Orioles still in it? Because they're 20-4 against teams with losing records since the All-Star break. Against winners they're just 8-17. They haven't won a series against a winning team since July 19-21 against the Royals.

Maybe that means they're destined for a third-place finish, just not substantial enough for the big boys. We'll see.

In any event, they've got the shot they wanted, and a schedule that clearly favors them. The Jays will play half of their 24 remaining games at SkyDome. The Yankees will play but nine of their 24 at Yankee Stadium. And, of course, both come to Camden Yards the last week of the season.

Getting more interesting, huh?

Don't believe this horseradish about a sorry division keeping the O's alive, either. Maybe it's true that the Yankees and pitching-poor Jays have the worst record of any division leaders, but the Jays are just one game off their pace from a year ago, when they won the World Series.

A year ago, the Jays wrapped up the division with a 17-7 sprint. With three teams in the running this time, it's bound to take something close to that again.

A year ago, the Orioles came home from a West Coast trip just 1 1/2 back with four weeks to play. They stopped hitting, lost five of six and said goodbye. If they're going to do better this time, they'll need more of this balanced hitting, more of the same from the 3M starters, decent outings from Arthur Rhodes and Fernando Valenzuela, big shoulders from the Olson-less bullpen, no fundamental mistakes . . .

They'll need everything.

But before they take their shot, pause and give them credit for their resilience. When they left town 10 days ago, pitching coach Dick Bosman said, "We'll know something when we get back." That something, it turns out, is that the Orioles are contenders, not pretenders.

Oh, but you knew that all along, right?

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