Johnson's big on beating little guys Sweep is example of pennant strategy

April 05, 1996|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,SUN STAFF

It took baseball's winningest active manager only three games to reveal how he planned on getting the Orioles into the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.

"This is the book on winning the pennant," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said after his team's three-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals. "You've got to split with the good clubs and beat up on the not-so-good clubs."

The Orioles didn't beat up on some of those not-so-good clubs last season.

They were 4-5 against the Royals, 5-7 against the Oakland Athletics and 3-6 against the Minnesota Twins.

"We wouldn't beat them the way we played last year," Jeffrey Hammonds, who singled and doubled yesterday, said of the Orioles' come-from-behind, 5-3 victory. "We struggled to beat anyone."

This year's team shouldn't lose often to a team such as the Royals, who could easily be confused with their Triple-A affiliate in Omaha.

How many clubs pinch hit for their No. 3, 4 and 5 hitters on Opening Day?

Johnny Damon, Mike Tucker and Keith Lockhart aren't household names. Neither are their replacements -- Patrick Lennon, David Howard and Les Norman. Only one of those six players (Howard) has played a full season in the big leagues.

The Royals were last in the American League in offense last season. And during the off-season they lost Greg Gagne, Gary Gaetti and Wally Joyner, veterans who represented 39 percent of the team's run production last season.

Replacements for those three Royals have not arrived yet. In the ninth inning yesterday, manager Bob Boone had the tying run at the plate but pinch hit with Jose Offerman, an erratic shortstop with eight career homers.

"This is a character builder," Boone said after getting swept. "You develop character through adversity."

The Royals could face a lot of adversity this season.

The Orioles, who finished only seven percentage points higher than the Royals last season, tried to be complimentary of their now less-talented opponents.

Bobby Bonilla referred to teams such as the Royals as "pesky." Brady Anderson said "they have a lot of speed." Hammonds said they "manufacture runs."

The Orioles often would have let a pesky, speedy team like the Royals beat them last season.

True, the Orioles have a better second baseman, a better third baseman and a better closer.

But the biggest difference is the team's attitude.

"No question we would have folded by the eighth inning [last season]," Mike Mussina said. "Hell, we would have folded by the sixth."

The Orioles began the 1995 season against the same bad teams -- the Royals and the Twins -- and they started 0-3.

This year, entering the Minnesota series, they're already 3-0.

The players can sense the difference.

"We're expecting to win," Bonilla said.

They don't care if they're playing good teams or bad ones.

"Kansas City, New York, Cleveland -- we're approaching it the same way, whether they're sub-.500 or up there with us," catcher Chris Hoiles said. "This is the attitude we're to take all year."

The attitude is about the importance of winning, and it's been instilled in the 1996 Orioles by the manager with the not-so-secret formula for success.

"I want these guys to expect to win every game," Johnson said. "Success breeds confidence."

And confidence wins pennants.

Pub Date: 4/05/96

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