Doubts eased after sweeping statement

INSIDE PITCH

May 14, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

A three-game series in the middle of May often gets more attention than it deserves. Even if it involves a sweep, which is what happened when the Orioles took three straight from the Toronto Blue Jays earlier in the week.

Those three games proved only that the Blue Jays, who came in averaging six runs and left with one less than that in a span of 72 hours, were in a temporary slump. The Blue Jays' slump won't last -- you can make book on it (excuse me Mr. Commissioner, whoever you might be).

In beating the two-time defending World Series champions three times, the Orioles did not establish superiority. Neither did they supply conclusive evidence that the balance of power has shifted in the AL East Division.

What the Orioles did do, however, is serve notice that there has been a changing of the guard; that they are a team to be reckoned with; not the same collection that posted a 5-8 record against the Blue Jays in each of the last four seasons. The changes made during the off-season did not go unnoticed by the Blue Jays, the Orioles or the rest of the AL.

But there was a message that needed to be delivered. And, even though neither team will admit it, both the Blue Jays and Orioles understood. Before the Orioles could be considered legitimate contenders they had to prove they could compete with the best team in baseball.

"They've done some things to improve their team," Blue Jays outfielder Joe Carter acknowledged before the first meeting of the season between the teams. "But the thing with Baltimore is mental."

What Carter was saying was that, until they showed the could beat the Blue Jays, until they avoided last-inning comebacks, the Orioles would doubt themselves. Had they lost their opening series against the Blue Jays, the whispers would've been there. Had they been swept, the whispers would've been a roar.

So, it was important that the Orioles made a point against the Blue Jays. But that was only the start. Traditionally, teams tend to let down after riding an emotional high for a big series.

That's why this weekend's series in Minnesota, the one at home against the Red Sox next week, and the ensuing road trip that starts in New York, are so vital. Maybe even more so than the series sweep against the Blue Jays.

The Orioles needed to make a statement against the Blue Jays, and they did. Now they have to carry through and make one to the rest of the American League.

The tone of the message could well be decided by the outcome of games such as the ones the Orioles are playing this weekend. Beating teams you have to beat in order to establish credibility is one thing. The next order of business is to beat up on the teams you're supposed to beat.

Good teams do that, which is why a series such as the one being played this weekend in Minnesota is so important.

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