It doesn't have to be raining for Orioles to run for shelter

June 20, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

Night in and night out, there's a man in uniform hustling all over the field for the Orioles.

Too bad it's the groundskeeper.

Paul "MVP" Zwaska has his crew laying down the tarp with an intensity rarely shown by the players under clear skies.

Actually, our heroes sprung to life last night in the second inning of Game 2 of their doubleheader against Texas.

It took a vicious bolt of lightning, followed by a deafening thunderclap, but the Orioles were not to be denied.

First baseman Rafael Palmeiro signaled with his thumb, "I'm out of here," then led the charge off the field as the downpour began.

This was one night when you didn't hear Bobby Bonilla complain about being the DH -- he could hardly view the dugout as a torture chamber when it provided shelter from the storm.

The second game was postponed until this afternoon at 1: 35. The Rangers will start Kevin Gross, who warmed up and pitched the first inning of Game 2 on three days rest, and threw 144 pitches in his previous start.

Gutting it out for the team.

What a concept.

If Gross beats David Wells on 12 hours rest, the Orioles should just concede next week's three-game series in Texas.

The 3-2 loss in Game 1 gave the Orioles a sterling 1-8 record for the season against Doug Melvin, Johnny Oates and Co.

Not that anyone is keeping score.

Why, Peter Angelos probably hasn't even noticed.

Don't look now, but Orioles Southwest is everything the local nine is not -- an intense, alert, cohesive team.

The one-run margin in Game 1 was deceptive -- Bobby Witt came within one out of pitching his first shutout since July 3, 1994.

Chris Hoiles missed a game-winning homer by only a few feet for the final out, but the baseball gods weren't about to let the Orioles take this one.

They failed to score after loading the bases with none out in the fourth, and Mark Smith was caught stealing with none out in the eighth.

But the biggest offender in this game of Stupid Oriole Tricks was Luis Polonia, who got picked off second while dustin' and adjustin' his uniform pants.

Style on, Luis!

If this baseball thing doesn't work out, perhaps Calvin Klein could use a new model.

"He wasn't even looking at the pitcher or the shortstop," Davey Johnson said. "He was looking at the ground. Then the guy turned around. We're just not paying attention. That was just vapor lock."

Witt couldn't believe it, either.

"He was coming off the bag with his head down," he said. "Mac [second baseman Mark McLemore] kind of told me to throw. I was like, 'Is it still time out, or what?'

"I was kind of surprised. Usually you spin, and the guy goes back in. I didn't know what was going on. I threw it really awkward. All of a sudden, we had a rundown. And then we had an out."

The Orioles' players departed quickly, and Polonia could not be reached for comment.

Johnson, though, was just as critical of Smith, labeling his failure to steal second with none out in the eighth "about as bad as Polonia getting picked off."

The sign, Johnson said, was, "go if you can get a decent jump." He figured the risk would not be terribly great, because Witt is slow to the plate.

First baseman Rene Gonzales wasn't holding Smith at the bag, but he was playing closely behind him, preventing him from getting a running jump.

"We should be good enough to get a jump and get it easy," Johnson said, recounting the precise number of seconds (1.6) it takes Witt to deliver a pitch.

Well, nothing is easy against Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who has thrown out 43.2 percent of his attempted base stealers (as compared to Hoiles' 15.7 percent).

Then again, Smith did lead Rochester with 10 steals in 11 attempts -- surprising, considering he isn't especially fast. He got a decent jump, and the play at second was close, but the cardinal rule is, "Don't get caught."

And if the play is bang-bang, then it's too close.

Now, Johnson can be faulted for entrusting a rookie with the responsibility of reading a pitcher with whom he is unfamiliar. But that goes back to the Orioles' inept offense. Johnson said he wanted to be aggressive, that's all.

Such plays occur when you're struggling, but the Orioles always seem to struggle when the opponent has a pulse. They're 10-22 against clubs above .500, 26-9 against teams below.

Thank goodness Kansas City visits this weekend.

Mike Mussina delivered his second straight quality start in Game 1, but the Orioles managed only four hits in the first eight innings against Witt, who entered the game with a 6.05 ERA.

The Game 2 matchup was Rick Krivda against Kevin Gross -- advantage Rangers, except for the fact that Gross was pitching on three days' rest after throwing 144 pitches in his first outing off the disabled list.

Thus, the night belonged to Zwaska.

If he's a true Oriole, it won't be long before he complains that Johnson is mistreating him, or whines that the umpires are ordering him to remove the tarp too soon.

Right now, he's doing his job too quietly, too effectively, too enthusiastically to belong.


Pub Date: 6/20/96

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