In hurry, O's reach point of no return

JOHN EISENBERG

September 19, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

MILWAUKEE -- This is what happens when it all goes wrong in the end. Someone named Angel Miranda makes it look easy. One hit in the third inning delivers enough runs to beat you.

One night, a double bounces over the fence and keeps a sure run on the base paths. Another night, your ace comes up with a bum wing and there is nothing to do except shrug at the terrible news.

Little things, big things, coming all at once at the worst possible time, and, suddenly, the math is an absolute disaster. Five games out with 14 to play. Those are the numbers the Orioles are facing today.

The impossible numbers.

Five and 14 and big, big trouble.

And you thought they were right there, in perfect position to strike. Hey, they were. So close to the lead, the Blue Jays and Yankees coming to Camden Yards to end the season. Perfect. Everyone bought it. Sports Illustrated had an upbeat -- and suddenly outdated -- Orioles story this week. The city was gearing up for a killer year-end homestand.

What happened?

One swing too many.

No, not a swing of the bat. The Orioles, scoreless for 22 innings, could use more of those.

One too many swings of the baseball pendulum, the ebb and flow of which every season consists.

The Orioles were a team of extremes this year. Terrible slumps. Grand winning streaks. In contention. Out. In. Out.

They were in six days ago. Four losses later, they're out. Streaky to the end.

Too streaky.

It happened in a hurry, huh? The old axiom about soap operas is that you can forget to watch for an entire year and not miss a thing. Change occurs at elephantine speed. Then there are the Orioles, the official Bawlmer soap opera. They're the exception to the rule. If you forget to watch them even for just a couple of days, you're liable to find them in entirely different circumstances when you check back in.

Consider the events of the past few weeks. Just when you thought they were out of it, they celebrated Labor Day by bounding back into contention. Then, just when you thought they were in for keeps, they lost a few road games this week -- just a few -- and fell out of it.

They were just a half-game out of first place as recently as nine TC days ago, just 1 1/2 back when they began this trip Monday. Now, after two losses in Boston and two in Milwaukee, they're in the neighborhood of extinction -- not officially there yet, but close enough to see the signs.

From right there to nowhere in, oh, approximately 72 hours.

Whew.

"But it doesn't take much this time of year," catcher Chris Hoiles said before last night's game against the Brewers, "particularly when the other team is going so good."

The other team is, of course, the Blue Jays, who won their 33rd straight game yesterday. OK, their seventh straight. Whatever. They're forcing the issue, leaving their pursuers no room for error.

"They're playing good ball," second baseman Harold Reynolds said, "and at the right time, for sure."

No room for error. Mike Mussina comes down with a sore shoulder, Cal Eldred and Miranda come up with a big performances, the Red Sox come back for a couple of wins at Fenway Park, and, suddenly . . . Didn't take long, huh?

And the hitting. It held up well enough in Boston, where, despite losing two, the club scored 20 runs. Couldn't blame the bats like last year, not for what happened in Boston.

What's happened here, however, is a different story. Two games, two shutouts. The Brewers, just playing out the string, have delivered a haymaker.

Last night was the killer. Getting shut down by Cal Eldred, Friday night's winner, was understandable. He's one of the better young pitchers in the league. But Angel Miranda? A rookie with a 3-5 record? The Orioles barely scratched him last night.

"What we need to do, by the end of the trip, is get back to where we were when we started," Hoiles said. "We were two out. That's where we need to be when we get home. Or even three out. From there we can make something happen in those last 10 games."

Three out. That's two games to make up. And even then, it's all a long shot.

"Like I said, we're going to need some help," Hoiles said.

The chances aren't good. The players know. The manager knows it. Everyone knows it. In a hurry, a big hurry, the Orioles have gone from hot to a long-odds proposition to big, big trouble. No, it didn't take long.

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