Orioles take race, deficit in stride

JOHN EISENBERG

September 20, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

MILWAUKEE -- Mike Mussina emerged from the shower and noticed the sizable circle of reporters gathered around Rick Sutclife, who hasn't pitched in weeks.

"What," Mussina said, "is Sut retiring or something?"

No, someone told Mussina, he's going to start if you can't go Tuesday night in Cleveland.

"Oh," Mussina said.

The young pitcher stood there for a moment, watching, then turned and nudged first-base coach Davey Lopes.

"Hey, Sut's retiring," Mussina said.

"Good!" Lopes said.

So it went in the Orioles' clubhouse yesterday after their 8-4 defeat of the Brewers. There were yuks all around. An NFL game was on the tube. Butch, the faithful batboy, was getting tortured again. There was even a hint of optimism despite the score from Minnesota, where the Blue Jays won their eighth straight.

"We're still in control of our destiny," Mike Devereaux said. "We're five back, but the teams in front of us still have to come to our place."

That's the mantra you'll hear in the clubhouse now: The last week. The last homestand. Three games with the Yankees. Four with the Jays. They're the shred of hope to which the players are still clinging after this lost week that so damaged their postseason possibilities.

Just get us to that last week, they say, and we'll take our chances.

Fine. Good. Of course, to expect the final week to amount to anything more than noise is pretty much dreamland stuff now. This past week, with two blown leads in Fenway Park and two shutouts in Milwaukee, devastated the club's chances. Five games out with 13 to play is hardly an enviable lot.

And even if the Orioles were to close to two or three games by the time the Jays hit Camden Yards, they still have to go out and play the Jays, the Orioles' personal thorn for six years now. Since 1987, the Jays are 56-31 against the Orioles, including a 6-3 record this year.

In other words, the Orioles just can't beat the Jays. Or haven't. In other words, it would be wise not to invest more than a nickel in their chances of sweeping the last series, or even winning three.

But what are the players supposed to do, mope about the small percentages on their side? Or give up? Of course not. It's one of the fundamental differences between players and the rest of us. (Bank accounts are another.) The rest of us sit around and crunch numbers and come up with incredibly meaningful stats. The players don't have time for that because, alas, they actually have to go out and play.

"In the mornings you can look at the standings and think about what wins and losses mean," Mark McLemore said. "You can't help it when you're in a pennant race. But there's no time for that stuff when it's time to play the games. Your only thought then is trying to do something to win."

Consider Harold Baines, who is a whole lot less obsessed with the standings than the many zealots around town.

"I don't even know how anyone else is doing," said Baines, who drove in four runs yesterday. "I've been playing much too long to worry about that stuff."

Well, someone said, you're five back with 13 to play.

"Who do we play tomorrow?" Baines replied.

Now, some of the other, younger players might watch the scoreboard more intently and rise and fall with its news. The relief pitchers are score freaks. You would be, too, if you had to spend all that time out there watching the grass grow.

But, for the most part, the clubhouse is the worst place around for meaningful pennant-race conversation. The players play the games, deposit their memories and go on to the next day. They're happy when they win and sad when they lose, regardless of what it means.

The only way to get a rise out of them is to get a bit more pointed.

"Were you guys pressing in those two shutouts here?" someone asked McLemore yesterday.

"If we were pressing, we wouldn't have gone out and had 14 hits today," he said. "We wouldn't have scored eight runs. No, we didn't press. We just had two good games thrown at us. You just keep going."

Cleveland is where they go now, and the task before them is as simple as it gets: Lose no more ground to the Jays. Pick up a game, at least.

The Blue Jays have to do their share, of course, and start losing a few. If they do, the Orioles have to take advantage. Absolutely. No maybes.

"Basically, our goal is to win, win, win," McLemore said. "But that's no different than usual."

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