With home not so sweet, O's might as well hit road

July 29, 1996|By John Eisenberg

It wasn't another one of those quiet, lifeless losses that the Orioles have trotted out for the home folks so often lately.

It was loud and rowdy and lasted more than four hours, and it was nearly a win when Roberto Alomar whacked a ball over the center-field fence in the 12th inning.

But the Indians' Kenny Lofton caught the ball as it sailed over the fence.

And then, an inning later, the game was a loss. Yet another loss.

A fitting way for the Orioles to close out the most favorable stretch of their 1996 schedule.

They played 18 home games in 22 dates beginning on Independence Day, and, just like in the movie that bears the holiday's name, their world almost came to an end.

They won only five of those 18 games at Camden Yards.

Instead of pulling closer to the leaders in the American League East and wild-card races, they fell out of contention in the former and close to the bottom in the latter.

Once again, they couldn't win consistently at Camden Yards when they needed to.

They never do. You can look it up.

Now, if they're going to get their $48 million hides back into the running for a playoff spot, they'll have to do it on the road.

They'll play their next 13 games in four different cities, a road trip so long that the Ravens will have played two exhibition games before it ends.

And they'll return for only 72 hours before heading back out for a trip to California.

They have only 22 home games left this season, as opposed to 34 on the road.

Conventional baseball wisdom suggests that a team can't expect to make up too much ground playing away from home, but the Orioles are just as well off there.

Camden Yards is an architectural classic, but the Orioles, unlike other teams with new ballparks, have seldom used it to their advantage.

Just call it Orioles Parked at Camden Yards.

Parked in neutral, that is.

Since moving into the new park more than four years ago, they're 20 games over .500 at home and 16 games over .500 on the road.

In other words, it doesn't really matter where they play.

But it should.

Their .530 winning percentage in five seasons at Camden Yards is a joke.

"We should do better here, a lot better," bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks said after yesterday's game. "Home is where you make up ground. You win at home and break even on the road."

The three other major-league teams with new ballparks certainly are following that blueprint.

The Indians are 67 games over .500 at home since moving into Jacobs Field in 1994.

The Rockies are 37 games over .500 at home since moving into Coors Field last year.

The Rangers are 25 games over .500 at home since moving into The Ballpark in Arlington in 1994.

The Indians and Rockies have been to the playoffs in their new parks, and the long-suffering Rangers are threatening to go this year.

The Orioles?

They're "just watching," as Art Fleming used to say on "Jeopardy."

Camden Yards is a success by any reckoning, but the Orioles' performance there is an abject failure.

Coming up with an explanation is almost impossible, of course. The club has employed three managers, two general managers, two owners and about 900 players since 1992.

Amid that sea of almost constant change, they have still managed to consistently disappoint at home.

"And the crowd is enthusiastic," Hendricks said. "They root and root. But for some reason, we just don't respond to them."

Asking the players is a pointless exercise. Players pay attention to who and how, not where.

"We play 81 at home and 81 on the road, so it all should average out," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said yesterday.

And yes, it's probably just an effect more than a cause of the Orioles' continuing mediocrity.

But it's nothing if not devastating.

On July 4, the Orioles opened a four-game series with the Red Sox in perfect position to make a run. They were seven games over .500 and five games behind the Yankees, with those 18 home games looming in 22 dates.

Today, they're 12 games behind the Yankees with a sub-.500 record.

You can trace the beginning of the end to one pitch: the Randy Myers fastball that Boston's Mo Vaughn hit about 500 feet to turn an Orioles win into a loss on the Sunday night before the All-Star break.

After that, the Orioles came home and lost those four in a row to the Yankees after the break, and they were cooked.

Home cooked.

The best part of their schedule turned out to be the worst part of their season.

Yesterday's loss was another one that hurt. The Orioles hustled and fought and thought they had won, but the Indians won on Jim Thome's home run.

Once again, a sellout crowd left quietly.

Disappointedly.

But not surprised.

The fans had seen this ending many times.

Pub Date: 7/29/96

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