After O's fall in 13th, brass plots strategy Lofton, Thome rescue Indians, 6-3

July 29, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

General manager Pat Gillick sat down in a chair in the office of manager Davey Johnson after the Orioles' 6-3, 13-inning loss to Cleveland yesterday, and they talked. And talked. And talked.

There's no telling exactly what was said, but it very well could've been big-picture-type stuff. Two months ago, post-game discussions between Gillick and Johnson were more likely to be game-specific, replaying situations -- like Kenny Lofton's great catch to take a homer away from Roberto Alomar in the bottom of the 12th, or Jim Thome's game-winning, three-run homer off rookie Garrett Stephenson in the top of the 13th.

But with the Orioles under .500 (51-52), ready to begin a 13-game road trip and the trade deadline looming (midnight Wednesday), Gillick, Johnson and owner Peter Angelos must determine the direction of their team, whether to trade Bobby Bonilla and David Wells and others.

Cincinnati is the latest team to jump into the running for Bonilla, although he appears to be the second choice of Reds general manager Jim Bowden; Bowden is trying to complete a deal for Milwaukee outfielder Greg Vaughn. Cincinnati can dangle young outfielder Steve Gibralter for Bonilla. San Diego and the Chicago Cubs also have some interest.

Bonilla was asked how he felt about being traded. "It doesn't really make any difference what I feel, if that's what they think is necessary," he said.

The Mariners would like to acquire Wells, and could offer catcher Chris Widger. Orioles farm director Syd Thrift has been in Seattle in recent days, discussing the deal.

The Orioles can trade Bonilla and still make a run at the wild-card spot. If they dealt him to San Diego for reliever Bryce Florie or Tim Worrell, either pitcher would help fill an immediate need. If they traded him to Chicago for Brian McRae, their outfield defense and team speed would be improved. If they traded him to Cincinnati -- and one NL source says that's a possibility -- and got Gibralter in return, they would get more speed. Those are moves with the potential of improving the Orioles this year. (As each day passes, it seems more and more likely Bonilla is going to be traded. A Chicago Cubs scout was here the last two days, and the Orioles have had a regular dialogue with the Padres).

A trade of Wells, the Orioles' best pitcher over the last month, would be a concession for 1996. Assuming Jimmy Haynes or Stephenson would join the rotation in place of Wells, the Orioles would be hard-pressed to contend with a rotation that included two rookies -- Coppinger and Haynes or Stephenson.

Trading Wells to Seattle, however, would give the Orioles the young, everyday catcher they covet, in Widger, and at least one more prospect (shortstop Desmond Relaford). Wells is a free agent after this season, and if the Orioles like him enough, they could always attempt to sign him for 1997. Trading Wells, Bonilla, etc. could generate the depth the Orioles have sorely lacked this season, creating the bridge of young talent that spans the strong core of major-league players (Roberto Alomar, Rafael Palmeiro, Cal Ripken) and the growing collection of talent in the minors.

Therein is the dilemma for the Orioles: Do they deal Wells, Bonilla and all marketable veterans like Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell, take a step backward, in the words of manager Davey Johnson, to move forward next year? Do they tell 28,000 season-ticket holders they're giving up on this team, with two months to play and with the team five games behind Seattle in the wild-card race?

Or do they hang onto Wells, Orosco, McDowell and Mike Devereaux and hope the Orioles reverse a three-month spiral -- even though the Orioles must play 37 of their final 59 games on the road, including the last 12 of the final 15 games. There is strong sentiment within the organization each way, some believing the club should re-tool for next year, others saying what has been a $48 million lemon has what it takes to overcome the other wild-card contenders.

Gillick said "a lot of different things" will be considered before a decision is made. Bonilla smiled when asked whether he thinks the team should look forward or stay the course.

"That's definitely a land mine," Bonilla said, "and I'll choose to step over it."

The Orioles came home July 5 to begin a stretch of 22 games in which 18 would be played at home. They lost 15 of the 22, including 13 of 18 at home. Last week, the Minnesota Twins swept three games from them, and Cleveland took three out of four. With a little luck and a little less Lofton yesterday, the Orioles could've split the four games with the Indians.

The Orioles tied the score at 3 in the bottom of the sixth on B. J. Surhoff's homer. Cleveland loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the ninth against Randy Myers, but Myers struck out the next three hitters. The Indians filled the bases again in the 10th without scoring.

Chris Hoiles drew a walk leading off the 12th, and after failing to get a bunt down, Luis Polonia hit into a fielder's choice. Alomar then drove a fly to deep center, and Lofton ran and ran and timed his approach and leaped high and reached over the wall to take a homer away from Alomar.

Johnson said, "Not many players can make that catch. Not many can get there, let alone catch it."

Devereaux singled to center, but Lofton charged the ball and threw out Polonia at third, ending the rally.

Stephenson walked Sandy Alomar to open the 13th, and after a sacrifice bunt advanced Alomar to second, Lofton bunted for a single, Alomar moving to third. Casey Candaele struck out, but Thome ripped a three-run homer on a high breaking ball.

Johnson said, "We had opportunities."

They'll have more opportunities in the next 72 hours. It's just a question of whether the Orioles will jump on them or maintain the status quo.

Pub Date: 7/29/96

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