Let's face it, O's not good enough

KEN ROSENTHAL

September 21, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

CLEVELAND -- It's time the Orioles get the message. They don't look like a division winner for a reason. They're not the best team.

Too many blown leads. Too many base-running errors. Too many bad hops. Last night's 6-4 loss to Cleveland featured all of the above, plus the latest brutal outing from Fernando Valenzuela.

Time to take a hint.

Time to say so long to 1993.

The math -- 5 1/2 games back with 12 to play -- is turning ludicrous. If the Orioles finish 12-0 and Toronto goes 7-6 . . . oops, that only means a tie for the division title.

The Orioles' most realistic goal was to pick up a game on the Blue Jays in each of the next three series, then take three of four from Toronto, then win a one-game playoff.

Wasn't likely.

On a night when Bob Milacki gets the win and Randy Milligan the game-winning hit, you take the hint. On a night when you can't beat a pitcher who underwent shoulder surgery six months ago, you take the hint.

Last night, for the third time on this disastrous road trip, the Orioles blew a lead of three runs or more. Talk all you want about the six-week absence of Gregg Olson, and the latest injury to Mike Mussina. This goes beyond that.

The Orioles are 2-5 on this trip against the fourth-, sixth- and seventh-place teams in the division. Can't wait for that final 10-game homestand, when they face the two teams ahead of them, Toronto and New York.

The new owner, Peter Angelos, had better get the message. Of the Orioles' returning players this season, only two -- Cal Ripken and Rick Sutcliffe -- had ever played for a division champion.

Look at David Segui, now 3-for-26 on the trip. A contender can carry one or two struggling young players. But this is the third time in five years the Orioles have been in a pennant race. And they're still not capable of seizing the September stage.

It's not Segui's fault; it's not anyone's, really. The front office added Harold Baines, then Mike Pagliarulo and Lonnie Smith. But those were patchwork solutions. The Orioles need more quality veterans, and not the aging kind, either.

The Atlanta Braves feature two 100-RBI men (Ron Gant and David Justice) and possibly a third (Fred McGriff). Toronto boasts three 100-RBI men (Joe Carter, Paul Molitor and John Olerud) and three of the top five hitters in the American League.

The Orioles don't have any 100-RBI men -- heck, they've had only two (Cal Ripken and Mike Devereaux) since 1985. A free-agent slugger would help. So might a starting pitcher or two.

This isn't about lack of effort.

It's about lack of talent.

"They're not dogging it," manager Johnny Oates said. "I'm sitting here in the dugout. I hear the guys. I feel the emotion. I see them when they make an out. Sometimes, it might be they're trying too hard."

Last night, they faced a pitcher making his first start of the season above Double-A. But in four innings against Dave (Buy A Vowel) Mlicki, they managed only a double by Ripken and two-run homer by Mike Pagliarulo.

Of course, they might have scored more, but with one out in the third, Brady Anderson tried to advance from second to third on a grounder to shortstop. Bad idea No. 1. Three pitches later, Mark McLemore tried to steal second as the Indians pitched out. Bad idea No. 2.

Oates wasn't angry with Anderson, who was intent on stealing third, and got caught leaning too far. Besides, the play should have amounted to nothing. The Orioles had staked Valenzuela a 3-0 lead. Too bad he never got another out.

Base hit by Sandy Alomar. Base hit by Wayne Kirby. Base hit by Mark Lewis. Base hit by Carlos Baerga. Hello, Johnny Oates. Hello, Todd Frohwirth. And goodbye, Cleveland Stadium, nice to see the Indians already have moved the infield to their new Gateway Park.

Frohwirth struck out Albert Belle, but the Indians executed a double steal to advance runners to second and third. Milligan followed with a two-hopper to Ripken, but the infield was in such fine condition after three NFL games, the ball bounced over the shortstop's head.

That gave Cleveland the lead, and the Orioles never recovered. It was a night when three balls bounced off the glove of the slick-fielding Segui, a night Harold Reynolds made a critical throwing error, a night that drained the mystery from this bizarre season.

Mike Oquist pitched in the seventh. Paul Carey pinch-hit in the eighth. Manny Alexander pinch-ran in the ninth. Get ready for more of the same these final two weeks. It's another September mourn.

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