Once-ailing O's find cure -- lame opponent with sore-armed ace

June 13, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

BOSTON -- Why did the Orioles sweep the Boston Red Sox so convincingly over the weekend? Are they officially over whatever it was that ailed them for a month? Or are the Red Sox just that pathetic?

Both, let's say. Yes, let's.

The Red Sox certainly are lamer than a Sonny Bono solo album right now. They're working into the big fall that was inevitable when Frank Viola's elbow blew out May 3. Sox pitchers had allowed almost 10 runs a game for a week before the Orioles hit town. Someone was going to get spoiled on them this weekend. The Orioles were in the right place.

After winning the first two games of the series, the Orioles got as lucky as lucky gets yesterday. They were supposed to face Roger Clemens, but he postponed his start for a day because of arm soreness. Replacing the league's best pitcher was the immortal Nate Minchey, making his first 1994 start. The Orioles walloped him for 10 hits and five runs in 2 1/3 innings before Sox manager Butch Hobson finally gave it a rest. Clemens probably would have been a little tougher.

After that, the only threat to the Orioles' sixth win in seven games was a 121-minute rain delay in the fourth. But, fittingly for the way the Sox are going, the rain gave way to a sunny late afternoon and the Orioles ran their record to 3-0 in the Bruce Dostal Era with an 8-4 win that completed their first Fenway sweep (of a series longer than two games) since winner Ben McDonald was 12 years old.

The Orioles produced 23 runs and 39 hits in the three games, so, considering that they're ranked last in the league in hits and 13th in runs, they'll settle for a weekend of big bopping regardless of the state of the opposition. The players certainly felt more big-shouldered going into the four-game series with the Yankees beginning tonight at Camden Yards.

"It's a good time to go home and play the Yankees," Rafael Palmeiro said. "We're playing well and they're a little bit down."

The tougher Yankees pitchers will provide a more realistic test, but the Orioles probably are going to start hitting better now overall. It is an aberration, a freak, that they're at the bottom of the league stats. Maybe they're not going to be the monster some thought they'd be, but they're more potent than they've showed. They just have too many competent, productive hitters.

"Over the long haul, with the personnel that we have, everyone is going to start hitting and we're going to score more runs than we have," Cal Ripken said. "We have the ability to score more."

It's not hard to figure out what is starting to go right. Ripken is hitting .386 in June. Mark McLemore is hitting .320 in his last 14 games. Harold Baines never stops hitting. Neither does Palmeiro, who has hit in 13 straight games. (Yes, another streak.) Brady Anderson had a four-hit game yesterday. Even Mike Devereaux is at .260 in his past 20 games.

This isn't real complicated, folks. What is going right is that most of the hitters (Chris Hoiles an exception) are hitting. At the same time. Finally.

As well, manager Johnny Oates has decided he is going to write Chris Sabo's name in the lineup every day, adding another solid bat. Sabo in the outfield started out as a Fenway-only experiment, but it just doesn't make sense to have him on the bench and Jack Voigt in the lineup, not as long as Sabo isn't killing himself out there. He made it through the weekend without an error, although he was a little shaky at times.

"You look at Sabo's offensive numbers, and he has gotten it done year after year," Oates said. "I've got to get his bat in the lineup. He'll play right field, some third base, DH."

Sabo demanded a trade last week because Leo Gomez has taken his job. But now Sabo is also going to play every day.

"I guess I'm glad," Sabo said. "I've always proved in the past that I could get the job done over the long haul. I only have 100 at-bats right now, so I've got a lot of catching up to do, obviously."

Does this change his mind about wanting out?

"I'm not going to get into that," he said.

Did he feel comfortable in the outfield?

"Would you feel comfortable after three games?"

This is a good, creative move by Oates. It helps the offense. It diffuses a tick-tick-ticking situation. Of course, it hasn't really been tested yet. Let's see what happens if Sabo ever becomes a liability in the outfield. Certainly, teams are going to test his arm in right field.

As things stand now, though, the Orioles are undefeated with Sabo in the outfield. They're one game out of first place. They're going to play 20 of their next 27 games at home. Their lot is looking pretty good, for a change. The only way to improve it would be to let them stay here and keep playing the Red Sox.

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