As in 1981, O's picket wins before strike

NSIDE PITCH

July 25, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

All of a sudden the Orioles are having trouble throwing strikes as they prepare for one. Their current scenario is reminiscent of the 1981 season.

You might recall that was the last time baseball had a significant work stoppage. It also was the last time the New York Yankees won anything.

Based on what transpired in the past 11 days, we're in for a rerun. After winning three of four from the California Angels, the best thing that happened to the Orioles was the falling ceiling at Seattle's Kingdome.

They finished 4-5 while the Yankees were going 10-1, a five-game swing that looms almost insurmountable, especially with a labor strike appearing imminent. Instead of being in a position of power, the Orioles are left scrambling to stay in the playoff picture.

It's almost identical to the circumstances in 1981, when the Orioles led the American League East until days before a strike was called. The collapse was completed, fittingly, in Seattle and the Yankees went on to win the AL pennant.

This time the Orioles went to the West Coast trailing the Yankees by a half-game. Three straight times -- the day before and the first two after the All-Star break -- they were within three outs of first place.

But they let the Oakland Athletics off the hook the first time and the Yankees came back to rub out the Mariners in the other two. Two weeks after their first run at the lead, the Orioles left the West Coast with a 5 1/2 -game deficit -- and probably not enough time to make it up.

To say that yesterday's 7-6 loss to the A's was the most devastating of the season for the Orioles is like saying baseball has labor trouble. And when a six-run lead in the last three innings goes unprotected, it tends to diminish the importance of adding another starting pitcher.

Alan Mills gave up a game-tying three-run homer to Scott Hemond in the eighth inning, but it was his inability to throw strikes with a four-run lead that led to his downfall. The same was true an inning later, when Tom Bolton and Mark Eichhorn couldn't find the plate.

When relief pitchers don't throw strikes, there is no recourse. In Mills' case, it appeared as though he was too picky with a big lead. Ultimately he worked himself into a situation where he couldn't afford to make a mistake -- and Mills did.

The wild pitch by Eichhorn that allowed Rickey Henderson to score the winning run probably should've been blocked by Chris Hoiles. However, that doesn't obscure the fact that three runners were on base because of a pair of walks, in addition to Henderson's single.

The Orioles could've used a strike, of either kind, yesterday. Now they face the unpleasant prospect of having to make up as much lost ground as possible before facing the big one.

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