Yankees have given Orioles room to run

June 19, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

Know what's pathetic?

The first-place Yankees' rotation is crumbling, absolutely crumbling, and still the Orioles can't get out of their own way.

All right, it was only Kent Mercker last night, and he's on the verge of losing his job to Rick Krivda, who will start in today's doubleheader against Texas.

Still, the Yankees already have David Cone, Jimmy Key and Melido Perez on the disabled list, and now Andy Pettitte is battling a sore elbow.

Even if the unproven Krivda and Rocky Coppinger are the new fourth and fifth starters, how can the Orioles not win the AL East?

It's a fair question, but with this team, nothing is ever assured.

Mercker was supposed to give the Orioles a fourth veteran starter, but he allowed four homers in last night's game against Texas.

How dare Davey Johnson lift him after three innings!

Mercker set quite a tone: His replacement, Jimmy Haynes, allowed a homer to the first batter he faced, Damon Buford.

At that point, the Orioles were on pace to allow 15 homers, a total that would have shattered the glorious record they set at Toronto's Exhibition Stadium on Sept. 14, 1987.

The 10-homer game.

Remember?

Ken Dixon allowed three, Eric Bell two, Mike Griffin one, Mike Kinnunen two, Tony Arnold two. Hank Peters, the general manager then, had a video made of all the homers, so the Orioles could show their minor-leaguers how not to pitch.

Pat Gillick, it's your turn.

At least Mercker would be the star of something.

It's official: Mercker is this season's National League bust, joining an illustrious crew that includes Glenn Davis, Sid Fernandez and Bret Barberie.

Heck, only the Orioles could turn Rene Gonzales into Juan Gonzalez -- no disrespect intended to ol' No. 88, who went deep in the second.

But the fact is, the Yankees are in just as bad shape, especially now with Pettitte questionable.

Ramiro Mendoza and Brian Boehringer, those are the Yankees' scheduled pitchers Friday in a day-night doubleheader in Cleveland.

Albert (Good Behavior) Belle will be serving his reduced three-game suspension, but so what? The Indians are looking at a ridiculously easy sweep.

And the Yankees are looking at trouble.

Pettitte, tied for the league lead with 11 victories, has been pushed back two days because of elbow stiffness.

Kenny Rogers will face the Indians on three days rest Saturday, and if Pettitte remains unavailable, Dwight Gooden could pitch on three days rest Sunday.

Those are your first-place Yankees.

And as bad as the Orioles' starting pitching has been, at least they're not stuck with two mediocre rookies in the rotation and a slew of injured veterans.

Their top three starters -- Mike Mussina, David Wells, Scott Erickson -- are healthy. Krivda has a 4.43 ERA in 15 major-league starts. Coppinger is the organization's top prospect.

Not great.

But not as bad as the Yankees.

A week from tomorrow, the Orioles visit New York for four games. The Yankees have no idea who will pitch. And no, they can't make a trade, not with every club demanding outfield phenom Ruben Rivera in return.

Mendoza is 1-3 with an 8.10 ERA this season. Boehringer is 0-4 with a 13.10 ERA for his career. Scott Kamieniecki is the only other candidate at Triple-A Columbus, and he's struggling.

Crazy, isn't it?

The Yankees were so deep in pitching at the start of the season, they opened with Rogers, a 17-game winner, in the bullpen. Gooden was coming off an 18-month drug suspension. Now, he's the No. 2 starter.

After that, it's one question after another. Key is expected to come off the DL a week from today, but he has yet to pitch effectively. Perez is out until late July; Cone, probably for the rest of the season.

If not for the loss of Cone, the Yankees might be leading the Orioles by 7 1/2 games by now instead of 2. Then again, if not for their strong bullpen, they might be chasing an Orioles team that is 25-27 since its 11-2 start.

"You talk about the state of the Yankees, well, the state of the Yankees is Mariano Rivera," New York GM Bob Watson said Monday. "Where would the Yankees be without Mariano Rivera?"

The Orioles can say the same about Roger McDowell, but at least now they're in position to make a run.

If they don't win this division, it's their own fault.

Pub Date: 6/19/96

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