HR off Myers is blast from pre-Star past

July 08, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

Two years ago, Mark McGwire hit a decisive ninth-inning homer off Lee Smith at Camden Yards the day before the All-Star break, and the Orioles blew a chance to move into first place.

Last night, Mo Vaughn hit the second-longest homer in Camden Yards history off Randy Myers under remarkably similar circumstances, and this time the Orioles won't be saved by the strike.

Their crushing 7-5 loss to the Boston Red Sox prevented them from gaining on the first-place Yankees, leaving them six games out at the All-Star break instead of five.

They lost on a night Scott Erickson pitched eight solid innings, a night Brady Anderson hit his 30th homer, a night the struggling Chris Hoiles hit a go-ahead, two-run, opposite-field shot in the eighth.

Will they ever start rolling?

Will they ever recover?

They didn't last season after Doug Jones gave up a three-run homer to Domingo Cedeno on Aug. 1, capping a six-run, ninth-inning comeback by the Toronto Blue Jays.

That was a different team, but Vaughn's second homer last night -- a 457-foot shot to almost the top of the center-field bleachers -- was the same type of body blow.

If ever the Orioles were to turn a corner, the time is after the break, when they play 14 of their first 18 games at Camden Yards, starting with four against the Yankees.

They need to do to Steinbrenner, Strawberry and Co. what Seattle just did in Texas -- win three of four, and set a tone for the rest of the season.

But it's always something with this team.

Last night it was Myers' two-out walk to Jeff Frye, batting .224. So much for the Orioles' comeback from a 4-1 deficit, and their 37-0 record when leading after eight innings.

One swing by Vaughn, and their momentum was gone.

"Any loss is a big loss," manager Davey Johnson said. "But there's a lot of character on this ballclub. We had a little meeting before the game. Everyone is on good spirits. There's a lot of baseball left.

"We played hard. We battled back. The starters are doing the job. I'm glad the Yankees are coming right in. We need to get right after 'em."

They're not only six games behind New York but also three games behind the Chicago White Sox in the race for the wild card.

"I wish we were closer," general manager Pat Gillick said.

The Orioles should be closer, but they're 35-37 since their 11-2 start, a mere half-game better than the Red Sox.

The Mariners are playing without Ken Griffey and Randy Johnson, and they've got the same record as the Orioles.

The Milwaukee Brewers are playing in small-market shackles, and they're only 3 1/2 back.

The amazing thing is, the Orioles are fortunate to be where they are, considering their mediocre, uninspired play.

"If we're still at eight games over .500 by the end of July, then maybe we're not good enough," Rafael Palmeiro said before the game. "But I believe we'll be a lot better than eight over -- a whole lot better."

We've heard such talk before, but Palmeiro points to the Orioles' improved pitching and newfound resilience during their last road trip as reasons to believe.

"When we left Texas, the road trip seemed doomed," Palmeiro said. "We went into New York and lost the first game, and we were 1-3 on the trip. I thought this could be the road trip that's going to do us in.

"But we bounced back. We played decent against the Yankees, then took two of three from Toronto. We would have like to have gone 8-2, but at 5-5, we survived."

Now, they must rebound from their most devastating loss of the season. And when they return, they might be composed of different parts.

Gillick predicted yesterday that there could be as many as three or four trades at the break.

Will the Orioles make one of them?

"We're going to try to," he said.

Is he still focusing on a catcher and an outfielder?

"Let me put it this way -- we'll do anything that can improve us a little bit. It might not be a major move, but we'll do anything we can to improve a little bit."

Whatever happens, it still will come down to pitching. The Yankees have scored 56 fewer runs than the Orioles, but their ERA is more than half a run better.

Their four starters in this next series (Key, Gooden, Rogers and Pettitte) are a combined 32-17. The Orioles' four (Mussina, Wells, Coppinger and Erickson) are a combined 25-19 -- barely above .500, if not for Coppinger's 4-0 start.

And then there are the bullpens.

"The big key to them is [Mariano] Rivera," Gillick said. "As good as [John] Wetteland has been, getting to Wetteland is the big key for them. If something happens to Rivera, they've got nothing to get 'em to Wetteland."

Fair enough, but if Roger McDowell doesn't snap out of his slump, the Orioles will face the same problem. Myers had a 5.61 ERA after the break last season. Was last night a sign of things to come?

To this point, the Yankees have been greater than the sum of their parts, the Orioles less.

The second half offers a clean slate.

Mercifully, the first half is over.

Pub Date: 7/08/96

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