As recent history suggests, O's hopes may be history

July 12, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

The first half gave us Davey vs. Bobby, the pitchers vs. the catchers, the Orioles' brain trust vs. Cal Ripken.

The second half will decide it:

Do the Orioles belong in the postseason, or do they belong on "Ricki Lake"?

Actually, it won't matter if baseball's most dysfunctional family starts growing closer if the gap to the first-place Yankees keeps growing wider.

Last night's 4-2 loss left the Orioles seven games back, and a double-digit deficit remains possible if they get swept in the four-game series.

Just ask the New York Post.

"Yanks Can Say Bye Bye Birdies," went yesterday's back-page headline, and for once the Orioles took notice.

Rafael Palmeiro posted the offending document next to the lineup card outside manager Davey Johnson's office.

"I want some of the guys to see that stuff," Palmeiro said. "Maybe it'll motivate us."

Someone find a Chicago Sun-Times.

The Orioles are only three behind the White Sox for the wild card.

Too bad they haven't won a big game since, oh, about 1983.

Funny, they seemed upbeat enough coming off the All-Star break, with Johnson meeting privately with Ripken for 15 minutes to discuss the state of the team.

Then the game started, and there was an immediate crisis.

The Orioles had to face a left-hander.

They failed to manage an extra-base hit in seven innings against Jimmy Key, and are now 11-15 against left-handed starters, with two more to come (Kenny Rogers and Andy Pettitte) in this series.

The only consolation is that the Yankees reduce to a .500 team against lefty starters, and tonight the Orioles start David Wells (12-4 lifetime vs. New York) against right-hander Dwight Gooden.

It might be the only remaining matchup favoring the Orioles -- and Gooden is 8-4 to Wells' 5-8. In the final two games, the Yankees will pitch lefties and the Orioles righties.

"We're predominantly left-handed," Johnson said. "We don't have a big banger from the right side. Cal's been doing a good job, but Bobby [Bonilla] hasn't hit like he's capable from the right, and [Chris] Hoiles . . . "

"We're susceptible. Not that my left-handers can't hit left-handed pitching, but generally . . . "

When you start a rookie as your right-handed DH, you're in trouble.

Mark Smith, the Orioles' No. 1 draft pick in 1991, went 0-for-3 in the ninth spot. Derek Jeter, the Yankees' No. 1 pick in '92, hit the game-winning homer from the same position in the batting order.

Jeter hit his two-run shot on an 0-2 Mike Mussina fastball with one out in the eighth inning. Mariano Rivera and John Wetteland held the Orioles hitless in the final two innings.

Mussina might have the highest winning percentage among active major-league pitchers, but he's now 2-5 lifetime against New York, with two of the losses coming in his past three starts.

"You can't give up the lead late to the Yankees," he said, almost mournfully.

And yet, last night's game was one of the most riveting of the season, not that you could tell from the lifeless response of the wine-and-cheese crowd at Camden Yards.

If these are the people getting shafted on their Ravens tickets, they deserve it.

Or is it too much of an effort to make noise without prompting from the Oriole Bird?

One of the night's loudest cheers came when Wetteland struck out pinch hitter Luis Polonia for his major-league-leading 30th save.

Yankees fans.

Naturally, they're rejoicing.

Their team leads the season series 5-2. It's part of Yankees tradition. The Orioles have had a winning record against New York only once since 1982.

It certainly would be helpful if the Orioles could win the next three games -- their seven-game deficit is the largest of any second-place club in the majors.

Then again, why shouldn't they collapse?

It would be consistent with their recent history.

In 1992, they were a half-game out on Sept. 5, then lost 13 of 21. In '93, they were a half-game out on Sept. 9, then lost 14 of 22.

Back then, their nemesis was the Toronto Blue Jays.

The past three years, it has been the Yankees.

In '94, the Orioles were a half-game out on July 15, and 6 1/2 back when the strike hit.

In '95, they trailed New York by a half-game on Aug. 27, and finished eight games behind the wild-card Yankees.

This time, the race might not even get that close, creating different second-half dramas.

No, not Brady vs. Roger.

Pat Gillick vs. the trade deadline.

Manny Alexander vs. routine grounders.

Pitching, Johnson keeps saying it will come down to pitching. But the Orioles keep getting good pitching, and they're still losing ground.

No wonder Johnson looks so puzzled.

He described his pre-game meeting with Ripken as nothing FTC major, saying he only wanted to know if the shortstop's assessment of the team matched his own.

"Sometimes you wake up in the morning and start thinking, 'Holy moly, maybe I can't see the forest for the trees,' " Johnson said.

"I talk not just to Cal, but to everyone. My job is to keep my hand on the pulse of the club, make sure we're pulling in the same direction, seeing things the same."

They do, Johnson said.

"We're six back with the inconsistent pitching we've had," he continued, referring to the Orioles' pre-game deficit. "We can win 100. Are we capable of doing it? I say yes. But it's how we perform."

To win 100, the Orioles would need to go 54-22.

You tell us, Davey.


Pub Date: 7/12/96

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