O's forecast calls for pain, and lots of it

July 14, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

If Darryl Strawberry were an Oriole, he wouldn't have hit a pair of two-run homers last night. He would have fit right in, and struck out with the bases loaded.

But why give the Orioles the benefit of the doubt?

It's embarrassing, getting beat by a player you scouted but didn't sign. It's embarrassing, hearing your fans shouted down in your own stadium. It's embarrassing, losing three straight at home in the biggest series of the season.

But guess what?

It's stark reality.

A crushing 3-2 loss in Game 1, a devastating 7-5 loss in Game 2, a nine-game deficit when it could have been five.

The Yankees have won five straight in Baltimore for the first time since 1958, and today they start 13-game winner Andy Pettitte against Scott Erickson.

If you're disgusted, sell your ticket to a visiting New Yorker, and help complete the most successful invasion since Normandy.

The Yankees don't need a new stadium.

They've got Camden Yards.

You can second-guess manager Davey Johnson for Game 1, and you can even second-guess general manager Pat Gillick for failing to sign Strawberry.

But the issue runs deeper than one player, one game or even one series. The Orioles twice rallied to tie after falling behind 4-0 and 5-4 in Game 2, and brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth.

L And they still couldn't beat the Yankees in their home park.

They finished 2-for-18 with men in scoring position for the doubleheader, leaving Johnson alone in the dugout with his thoughts.

"I don't know the answers," he said.

Maybe there are no answers.

Maybe his team just isn't good enough.

"I was out there, I'm telling you, we played well, we played hard," center fielder Brady Anderson said. "People may believe you can't show character when you lose two games, but I think they're wrong.

"Obviously, you want to get results, but I think we played our butts off. They were just a little better."

It's always that way isn't it?

The Yankees find ways to win, the Orioles don't.

What would have happened if Johnson had removed David Wells in the ninth inning of Game 1?

The bullpen would have blown it.

What would have happened if Johnson had replaced Bobby Bonilla in right field?

Some other disaster would have struck.

This isn't to a plea for forgiveness -- the Orioles aren't worthy of sympathy. It's merely to state the obvious, that this team lacks what it takes for October.

That's the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and under such circumstances, game strategy and roster moves become almost irrelevant.

Yes, that's a rationalization.

But the fans should just embrace it, before they lose their minds.

The Yankees' 16-4 record in one-run games is the best in the majors. They're also a combined 11-0 in Cleveland and Baltimore -- as many total victories as the Orioles have against teams over .500.

Players change, managers change, front offices change, but every season offers a new exercise in futility.

Let no one entertain thoughts of a wild card -- the Orioles can't beat any opponent more dangerous than the Bad News Bears.

Attention, contenders:

Gillick can be reached in the warehouse that Strawberry nearly knocked down last night.

And he'll be happy to take your calls.

The Orioles can offer potential free agents like Bonilla and Wells, and faded prospects like Jeffrey Hammonds and Manny Alexander.

What would they want?

Alex Ochoa is probably unavailable, but any other young player with a heartbeat would do.

Game 1, it all goes back to Game 1. The Orioles took a one-run lead into the ninth. And for the second time in three games, they couldn't hold it.

Johnson easily could justify Wells starting the inning -- he had thrown only 108 pitches, and faced one batter over the minimum.

He could even justify sticking with him after Gerald Williams' leadoff triple -- the hit was nothing more than a pop fly off the right-field wall.

But when pinch hitter Joe Girardi followed with an RBI single, that should have been it.

The Yankees had tied the score.

They went ahead one out later when Mariano Duncan's slicing double eluded Bonilla in right. Maybe Bonilla couldn't have caught the ball, or held Williams to a double to start the inning.

But the Orioles lost a ninth-inning lead in Texas last month when Juan Gonzalez hit a ball out of Bonilla's reach.

A defensive replacement would not have endangered the republic.

Funny, Yankees manager Joe Torre didn't hesitate inserting rookie Andy Fox at third base instead of Wade Boggs in the ninth, even though Boggs has won two straight Gold Gloves.

Torre said Fox has better range in both directions, and that was that.

One is a team, the other is a collection of individuals.

One leads by nine games, the other is on the verge of breaking up.

Pub Date: 7/14/96

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