After rough 1st half, half-game out isn't bad

INSIDE PITCH

July 11, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

The picture isn't perfect, but neither is it completely out of focus.

All things considered, being a half-game out of first place at the All-Star break is as much as the Orioles could've hoped for -- or expected. The fact that they had a fingernail grip on first place for about an hour yesterday just makes it a little more difficult to accept.

Consider the circumstances:

Yesterday was the first time since the 12th game of the season that the Orioles had their Opening Day lineup on the field.

Jeffrey Hammonds was unavailable for the better part of two months.

Sid Fernandez has spent two terms on the disabled list.

Just when he appeared to be recovering from a slow start, Mike Devereaux took a pitch in the cheek -- and later went on the disabled list because of a pulled groin muscle.

Chris Sabo also had a mediocre start and a trip to the DL.

The expected potent offense sputtered for much of the first half before Brady Anderson sparked a recovery.

Given those facts going into the season, almost everyone would have settled for 50 wins in the first 86 games. Almost everyone.

With the Orioles only three outs away from gaining sole possession of first place, the sting from yesterday's loss will linger a little longer. If nothing else, it will help fill talk show time during the All-Star break.

Realistically, however, the Orioles may have more reason to be optimistic now than they did at the start of the season. Sabo's injury gave Leo Gomez another chance to establish himself, and he's taken advantage of the situation.

Anderson again has emerged as an offensive force, the team is lTC as healthy as it has been all year, and the New York Yankees are showing signs of not being quite as formidable as Detroit manager Sparky Anderson thought.

"You'd like to be five or 10 games better off," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. "But it's exciting to think about the possibilities.

"We were six back a couple of times and we could've dropped out then. To be able to get back to a half-game, and see us doing the things we're capable of doing is encouraging."

As constituted, the Orioles are not going to overwhelm anybody. Neither are they going to lull any teams into a feeling of security.

For all of the glitter that came with the free-agent acquisitions, the Orioles are still a methodical, grind-it-out team that needs all of the spokes to make the wheel work.

They've survived some troublesome times, and still need some key people, notably Devereaux and Fernandez, to get closer to their normal production. But, with the addition of Dwight Smith and Sabo's new-found ability to play the outfield, they have more versatility than they did at the start of the season.

First place at the All-Star break was a logical goal. Second place, a half-game back, might not have been a realistic expectation.

Their current position wouldn't be enough to qualify for the playoffs -- but it's as good, if not better, than they had a right to expect.

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