Orioles follow winding road back to race Come home in running after successful trek of 20 games in 6 cities

7-8 hitters, pitching cited

O's 'playing probably as well as we can'

August 20, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Orioles' long weekend on the West Coast ended on a decidedly sour note, but Sunday's ugly loss to the Oakland Athletics did not change anything.

They're back. Back in the American League East race. Back in the wild-card hunt. Back home for a nine-game stand at Camden Yards that begins tonight after an impressive turnaround that featured 14 victories during what amounted to a 20-game, six-city road trip.

There was one home series mixed in -- two games and a rainout against the Milwaukee Brewers last week -- but the three-day stop was more like a road series than a homestand. The Orioles responded with their best sustained run since the first two weeks of the season, winning 14 of 18 before losing the final two games of a demanding five-game series against the A's.

"We're playing probably as well as we can," said general manager Pat Gillick. "We were talking about our inconsistency from late April into July, but the last three weeks we've played the type of baseball we're capable of playing."

The turnabout has been so pronounced that the Orioles don't even look like the same team that sleepwalked through the late spring and early summer.

"A lot of things that didn't happen early have come late," manager Davey Johnson said. "Chris Hoiles is hitting. Eddie Murray is here. They beefed up the 7-8-9 spots, and I think the four-man rotation has been a big help."

The only sore spot has been the bullpen, which will have to do without right-hander Roger McDowell for the rest of the season and may have to make do with a number of inexperienced youngsters down the stretch.

Gillick said Sunday that the club is discussing possible deals with several clubs, but it still seems likely that Johnson will have to continue to break in minor-league prospects during the pennant race.

Nevertheless, the club finally is living up to the preseason hype. There are eight players in the starting lineup with 17 or more home runs. The Orioles averaged eight runs per game to win three of five games at the Oakland Coliseum; they just didn't spread them out well enough to make the series more one-sided.

"You can look at our team and see what type of team we have," center fielder Brady Anderson said. "You can see we have a good club. I think that expectations were so high that people were ready to give up on us too soon. And a lot of the criticism was unfair as far as the intensity not being there and this being a laid-back team. When a team faces adversity, you lose confidence. You're seeing a team that has regained that confidence."

Anderson heard the talk like everybody else. The front office considered breaking up the club before the July 31 trading deadline. He says that owner Peter Angelos did the right thing by insisting that the team be kept intact, and he would like to take that notion a step further.

"I'm not saying that we needed time to jell," he said, "but if you look at our team, this is a good team that can be successful for the next two or three years. I don't think there is any reason to break up this team."

There is room to wonder if the mere threat of a midseason garage sale had an impact on the chemistry of the club. The Orioles began playing well at about the same time, but Gillick says there are other good reasons the club came around at that time.

"I think Eddie Murray has been a pretty positive guy for us," Gillick said of the veteran designated hitter who was acquired July 21 from Cleveland. "I think that Eddie has really done a lot of things for the ballclub that the manager and myself could not do. He's been a very positive influence."

The decision by Johnson to go with a four-man rotation also has worked out. Right-hander Mike Mussina, who initially seemed resistant to the idea, has won four straight and the other three starters all are producing, though David Wells struggled on Sunday. The club has even benefited from a couple of well-placed days off.

"The object is to get yourself in a position where you get well-pitched games," Johnson said. "If you look at our pitching the first two weeks of the season and the last two or three weeks, it has been very good."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Seattle Mariners

Site: Oriole Park

Time: 7: 35

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM) Starters: Mariners' Matt Wagner (3-3, 6.40) vs. Orioles' Mike Mussina (15-8, 4.93)

Tickets: 2,500 remain

Pub Date: 8/20/96

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