Fast forward to August and September. Orioles players and fans will be bursting with curiosity, scoreboard watching, waiting for that crucial out-of-town update -- from Milwaukee.
Or Chicago, perhaps. Think wild card. How are those Brewers doing?
The way the Orioles are sinking in the AL East, Yankees scores will be irrelevant. New York is seven games ahead in the division, after beating the Orioles, 4-2, last night, before 46,760 at Camden Yards. Rookie shortstop Derek Jeter's two-run homer off Orioles ace Mike Mussina in the eighth inning broke a 2-2 tie.
To put everything in proper perspective: The gap between the Orioles and Yankees is the largest among any first- and second-place teams in baseball, and the Orioles are almost as close to the third-place Blue Jays as they are to New York.
If the Orioles win the final three games of this series, they'll pull to within four games of the Yankees. But the fact of the matter is they're 11-24 against teams over .500, and haven't really shown any inclination toward winning the AL East since the middle of April.
"I think we can still catch the Yankees," said Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar. "I'm thinking positive all the way."
First baseman Rafael Palmeiro said: "We need to come out [today] and get on them early."
They need to do something, before the pseudo-race turns into a rout. Conventional wisdom is the Orioles' best four or five players are better than the Yankees' best four or five players. But always, it seems, it's the guys at the bottom of the New York lineup who are killing the Orioles. Guys like Derek Jeter.
The Yankees and Orioles each scored two runs in the second, and for five innings, Mussina and New York starter Jimmy Key (6-6) matched zero for zero. Mariano Duncan led off the eighth with a ground single, and advanced on Joe Girardi's sacrifice bunt. Jeter was next, and Mussina zipped two quick strikes by the rookie. Mussina figured he'd throw another fastball, even higher, hoping Jeter would chase it.
Jeter looked for a fastball. "I'd faced him three times," Jeter said later, "and every pitch he threw me was a fastball."
This particular fastball, with no balls and two strikes, Mussina didn't throw quite as far inside as he wanted, nor as high. Jeter whacked it over the wall in left-center, his fifth homer of the year.
"You've got to give him credit," Mussina said. "He got to a ball relatively close to where I wanted to throw it. . . . It wasn't like I missed by a couple of feet. I'll second-guess myself for a long time on that one. What are you going to do?"
Jeter's was the Yankees' second homer of the night, two more than the Orioles, who haven't been able to win without homers. Since May 26, the Orioles are 0-9 in games they haven't homered.
Their offense has become as predictable as the old Green Bay Packers sweep -- and not nearly as effective. A walk or a hit and then maybe Brady Anderson or Palmeiro or Cal Ripken will hit a homer. When they haven't hit homers, they usually haven't scored. Orioles manager Davey Johnson tried to change that last night, trying to shake up a rally or manufacture a run.
A hit-and-run in the second inning? Ripken bunting? Somewhere, Earl Weaver was kicking dirt on his television.
The Yankees scored twice in the second, on a bases-empty homer by Tino Martinez (Martinez homered in his previous at-bat at Camden Yards, too, a 15th-inning grand slam in the wee hours of May 2) and a Girardi RBI single.
Given a two-run lead, Key, working on a streak of 19 straight scoreless innings, proceeded to walk the first two hitters in the bottom of the second, Palmeiro and Bobby Bonilla. As Key prepared to pitch to B. J. Surhoff, Palmeiro -- with all of four steals to his credit -- broke from second. Surhoff swung and, breaking his bat, fisted a looper over second base. Palmeiro scored and Bonilla hustled into third. The Go-Go Orioles.
Mike Devereaux lifted a fly ball to short center field, and Bernie Williams prepared to catch and throw home. Down a run, nobody out, surely Bonilla would not tag up and try to score.
He did. Williams' strong throw reached Girardi on a bounce, an instant before Bonilla. But Bonilla slid in with his left elbow high, hitting Girardi in the chest, and the ball came loose. Bonilla came up pointing at the ball on the ground -- He dropped it, he dropped it! -- and home plate umpire Greg Kosc called him safe. Tie score.
Key and Mussina settled into the middle-inning standoff, both requiring some defensive aid.
Two outs into the sixth, Mussina walked Williams, and Paul O'Neill laced a line drive to right, just inside the line. With two outs, Williams flew around second intent on scoring.
But when coach Willie Randolph saw Bonilla's quick recovery and throw, he threw up his hands, signaling Williams to stop. Williams, four or five steps past third, tried to plant his feet -- but slipped and fell.
Nobody told this to Alomar; nobody had time. As he caught the relay from Bonilla, turned homeward and cocked his arm to relay home, Alomar diagnosed immediately that Williams was in trouble, and whizzed the ball across the infield to Surhoff for the out.
The Orioles had the momentum, Palmeiro would say later. "But we didn't do it," Palmeiro said. "We didn't capitalize."
Anybody know how Seattle's doing?
Opponent: New York Yankees
Site: Oriole Park
TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 50/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Yankees' Dwight Gooden (8-4, 4.20) vs. O's David Wells (5-8, 5.28)
1% Tickets: Fewer than 1,000 remain.
Pub Date: 7/12/96