Crossroads looms for Orioles 6 games before return home to set up/close down hopes

September 17, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

MILWAUKEE -- The clock is running down on the 1993 season and the Orioles don't seem to know which way to turn. They need to make their move if they are going to overtake the two teams ahead of them in the American League East, but the circumstances of the past few days have put their division title hopes in serious jeopardy.

What's happening with Mike Mussina? He appears to have suffered a relapse of the back and shoulder problems that have hampered him for much of the season, which could leave a

gaping hole in the starting rotation for the final two weeks.

What's going on with the Toronto Blue Jays? They were slumping so badly a week ago that their bandwagon was almost empty, but a five-game winning streak has put them back in control.

What will happen with the Orioles in the next week? That is the question, since the final two series of their final road trip will dictate how well they must play during a season-ending 10-game homestand that concludes with series against the second-place New York Yankees and leading Blue Jays.

First things first. Mussina struggled again on Wednesday night and reported renewed back and shoulder soreness, which leaves his status very uncertain for his next scheduled start on Tuesday.

"I'm sore, but I'm not dying," Mussina said after treatment yesterday. "I really don't know what's going to happen. It's probably going to be two or three days before I throw the ball hard again."

Manager Johnny Oates will not speculate on who would replace Mussina if he can't go, but veteran Rick Sutcliffe was ready to serve as understudy Wednesday in Boston, so he might be a candidate.

Sending Sutcliffe out there would be a gamble, since he has not thrown a competitive pitch since he underwent knee surgery 3 1/2 weeks ago, but Oates might have no other reasonable choice. The club recalled right-hander Mike Oquist from the minor leagues late Wednesday, but Oates seems more likely to go with the rusty veteran than the unproven rookie at this stage.

The Mussina situation and the two come-from-ahead losses in Boston had to be discouraging, but the situation is far from hopeless. The Orioles have won 12 of their past 16 games and tonight they begin a string of six games against teams they have dominated.

It was the Milwaukee Brewers and Cleveland Indians that went a combined 0-7 against the Orioles at Camden Yards during an eight-game winning streak in early August. The Orioles have won seven of the first 10 meetings with each of them.

But if that is any consolation in wake of a series loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park, Oates didn't want any part of it.

L "That's history," he said. "We start all over again Friday."

They are in a position to get off to a good start. Right-hander Ben McDonald (12-11) is scheduled to start tonight's series opener against 15-game winner Cal Eldred.

Eldred has won more games this year, but McDonald has been one of the most effective -- if somewhat unlucky -- pitchers in the American League. His 3.16 ERA ranks among the league's top 10 starters and he has given up three earned runs or fewer in 25 of his 30 starts.

The Brewers are the only team in the AL East to be mathematically eliminated, but they cannot be taken lightly, especially after hammering the Yankees, 15-5, Wednesday.

The Blue Jays, who are in Minnesota this weekend, righted themselves just at the right time. Their five-game winning streak has put them in position to put the race away if the Yankees and Orioles falter before the face-to-face showdowns.

"That's all right," veteran second baseman Harold Reynolds said. "They've got just as tough a schedule as we do. I don't think anybody can take anybody between now and that last series lightly."

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