How about trial run for Sid & Kato?

June 05, 1995|By JOHN EISENBERG

Cutting pizzas out of his diet hasn't helped Sid Fernandez pitch any better in 1995.

Trying on a leaner, meaner attitude hasn't worked, either.

But having Kato Kaelin sitting right behind home plate last night at Camden Yards almost worked.

At least Sid was the best pitcher the Orioles had last night, and how often can you say that?

True, the other four Orioles pitchers gave up 93 runs to the Oakland A's, or close to that many, once Sid left in the sixth inning. But Sid was still vastly improved. Check it out:

Sid's ERA in his first five starts (without Kato in the front row): 8.35.

Sid's ERA last night (with Kato in the front row): 7.20.

That's a 14 percent drop! Are we talking progress here, or what?

Sure, it's only one game, but Bill James could write an entire book about a trend that obvious.

If Peter Angelos is the least bit committed to putting a winning ballclub on the field, he'll have Kato in the same seat for Sid's next start later this week at Camden Yards. Fax Roland Hemond, fans!

If Kato is good for another 14-percent drop in Sid's ERA, we're looking at something like 6.05, which, while not exactly All-Star material, would at least drop Sid's ERA below the average interest rate on a 30-year homeowner's loan.

That'll suffice as progress, which is something the Orioles desperately need in L'Affair du Sid, in which a $9 million pitcher becomes about as useful as a 33rd-round draft pick.

Actually, for a while last night it appeared that "Sid + Kato" was going to be one of those magical, mystical, inexplicably successful baseball combos, like Weaver and Palmer, or Carlton and McCarver.

Kato, the famous witness/nothing else (whose name would be in the past tense if you could put a name in the past tense), came to the game as the, yes, guest of a local radio station. He hung out with a dude with even longer hair. Their conversation went along these lines:

Kato: ". . .you know, I was thinking . . ."

Dude: "What?"

Kato: (silence)

Dude: "Are you hungry?"

Kato asked the Orioles if he could throw out the ceremonial first pitch, a task for which he had practiced, someone pointed out, by throwing Marcia Clark a few curves. But the club, taking the high road, chose Ronald McDonald to throw out the first pitch, picking a real clown instead of a real clown, or something like that.

So, Kato settled in behind the backstop with a policeman at either end of his row, the better to keep his loyal "fans" at arm's length. (A few approached the row between every half-inning bearing autographable material. They left smiling as The Law gently shooed them away. Life can be so cruel . . .)

Sid strode to the mound and, with ESPN broadcasting the evening's show from Alaska to Florida, promptly yielded a home run on the fourth pitch of the game. Kato was "bummed," sources said.

But then, remarkably, Sid suddenly found the form that had caused the Orioles to invest the $9 million in him that they wish they had back. He struck out Mark McGwire to end the first inning, struck out the side in the second, and struck out Craig Paquette to start the third. He went on to retire four more in a row and began the fifth having not allowed a hit since the homer.

No one could have seen it coming, but the Kato thing was working. Four fans behind the Orioles dugout even gave Sid a standing ovation, a first in '95.

But then came the fifth inning. Sid gave up a leadoff double to Brent Gates, and then, one out later, Paquette, a .227 batter, crushed a huge home run to dead center field. Sid got through the rest of the inning, but manager Phil Regan pulled him for Mike Oquist when he gave up a single to lead off the sixth.

Ruben Sierra, the first batter Oquist faced, crushed a homer. The A's were on their way to a big win.

Any doubts that Kato was there for Sid were vanquished when Kato got up from his seat and headed for the exits at the end of the sixth inning, shortly after Sid's departure.

For the record, Baltimore booed Kato big-time.

Bigger than Sid, which is big.

In any case, even though Sid wound up getting knocked around, as usual, he pitched better than he has all season. He struck out six and retired 13 straight batters at one point. That's Cy Young stuff compared to his first five starts.

So, now it's up to the Orioles to make the next move. They've tried everything with Sid, and none of it has worked. But Kato kind of worked. And unlike Andy Benes, Kato is available, very available, for a fee, whenever the club wants him.

As Sid's Orioles career sinks deeper and deeper into the muck, do any other suggestions make more sense?

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