Sleepwalking O's may set off alarms

June 28, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

NEW YORK -- The Orioles didn't climb into bed until after 6 a.m. yesterday, so the excuse for last night's 3-2 loss to the New York Yankees was ready-made.

L Maybe they'll bounce back tonight after a good night's rest.

Or maybe Dwight Gooden will throw another no-hitter.

Granted, the Orioles had reason to look sluggish after all their travel delays from Texas. But they're so lethargic as a group, who can ever tell when they're tired or excited?

If ever a team needed a wake-up call, it's this one. Either the Orioles snap out of it in this series, or club officials might set off their own alarm clock, trading high-priced veterans for young talent.

Yes, it's still only June, but time is running out on Peter Angelos' $48 million lemon. The Orioles are a season-high 5 1/2 games out of first place. They could be 8 1/2 out by the time the weekend is over, with Manny Alexander getting ready to play shortstop.

Bobby Bonilla senses the urgency -- "we have to take three here, and we know it," he told the Sun's Buster Olney. But to do that, the Orioles must now win three straight, and tonight it's Gooden vs. Rick Krivda.

Scott Erickson pitched his third straight complete game last night, but the Yankees scored just enough on an unearned run in the first, a four-hop single in the second and a ground single off shortstop Cal Ripken's glove in the third.

The Yankees aren't flashy -- the Orioles are the team that boasts the major-league home-run leader and batting-average leader -- but under Buck Showalter and now Joe Torre, they've shown a remarkable knack for playing winning baseball.

The Orioles?

They're bottom feeders -- witness their 31-13 record against .500 teams or worse, and their 9-22 mark against teams over .500. Frankly, it might be difficult for them to turn it on after spending most of the season in cruise control.

"The last series was a big series," first baseman Rafael Palmeiro said before last night's game. "And we screwed it up."

Oh, they had a chance to win two of three in Texas, but they blew a 5-3 lead in the eighth inning Wednesday night, and finished 3-10 in their season series against the Rangers.

That game was a crusher: With men on second and third and one out, Johnson took the unorthodox step of putting the potential winning run on base with an intentional walk.

Juan Gonzalez hit a two-out, three-run double off Alan Mills, the ,, ball carrying past Bonilla in right field, and the transformation from a 5-1 lead to a 6-5 loss was complete.

Here's how the plane ride went, according to two sources:

One coach: It was Bonilla's fault.

One regular: It was Mills' fault.

Two other regulars: It was Johnson's fault.

Wrong.

When you lose, it's everyone's fault.

Joe Torre made the same move as Johnson with two outs in the ninth last night, ordering an intentional walk to Brady Anderson, the Oriole representing the winning run.

But closer John Wetteland struck out Mike Devereaux, and the Yankees improved to 42-16 at home since last Aug. 21 -- a stunning .724 winning percentage.

New York is far from a young team, but with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Ruben Rivera, it has the blend of youth and experience that Orioles manager Davey Johnson desires.

"I think that's the best of all worlds," Johnson said. "That's what happened when I was with the Mets. It keeps your payroll small. We never signed a free agent in the six-plus years I was there.

"We've had to do more of that here than I'd like to. [Former Yankees GM] Gene Michael did a good job holding on to young players over here. He doesn't get enough credit for it."

The Yankees have used 11 rookies this season, the Orioles six (Jimmy Haynes, Mark Smith, Rocky Coppinger, Brian Sackinsky, Archie Corbin and Jimmy Myers).

One of the Orioles' top young players (Armando Benitez) is hurt. Another (Manny Alexander) rarely plays. And a third (Jeffrey Hammonds) is at Triple-A Rochester.

Clearly, the farm system needs to be replenished. The Orioles have turned into the Yankees of the late 1980s, making one high-priced acquisition after another, trading away prospect after prospect.

Johnson talked this week about trimming the payroll from $48 million to $40 million next season. And if this team falls out of the race, general manager Pat Gillick probably won't hesitate to start rebuilding.

Cal Ripken and Roberto Alomar held a pre-game news conference last night, stressing patience and discussing their quiet leadership in the clubhouse. Palmeiro slumped in front of his locker and told a different story.

"Something is missing with this team," he said. "I don't know what it is, but something is missing."

A winning streak would help.

"That's what I'm waiting for," Palmeiro said. "That's what we need, a 10-game roll. We haven't had that this year, have we?"

Well, there was the 11-2 start.

"OK, the beginning of the year, that was the last time we did it," Palmeiro said.

"Ever since then, we've won two, lost three. We need to win six or seven in a row."

They need to do it in a hurry, or Gillick, Johnson and Co. will set off their alarm clock, bringing this slumbering team to attention once and for all.

Pub Date: 6/28/96

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