Incaviglia, Zeile what O's needed

September 19, 1996|By Jayson Stark | Jayson Stark,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- So what shall we call the classic, outhouse-to-penthouse saga of Todd Zeile and Pete Incaviglia?

"Escape from Philadelphia?"

"Rescue -- I-95?"

"Really, Really, Really Happy Days?"

Whatever. All these two men know is this: They could have been in Philadelphia Wednesday night, playing a baseball game that meant absolutely zilcho, in front of several dozen rabid spectators who apparently weren't aware that Wednesday night was the season premiere of "The Nanny."

Instead, thanks to the Aug. 29 trade that sent them from the Phillies to the surging Orioles, Zeile and Incaviglia found themselves in the packed Yankee Stadium looney bin, playing a huge September baseball game in front of 40,000 crazed people to whom baseball still matters.

Did they get the better of this deal, or what?

"The day I heard this trade happened," Zeile recalled Wednesday night, "I asked my agent (Seth Levinson) what the Orioles' schedule looked like. So he was going through it, and then he said, 'And you've got three with the Yankees in the middle of September. You know what that will be like.'

"And I knew right then, if we were close to them at all, that this would be a big, big series. I've been excited about this since the day this trade was made."

Back in Philadelphia, on the other hand, nobody can recall the last time anyone used the word "excited" in any baseball-related sentence. Let's see. Was it 1993?

So think about what it's like to go from that the land of the walking dead to this The Great American Pennant Race. It shouldn't be legal, having something like that happen to you all because the Phillies had a crying need to trade for Calvin Maduro.

"There have been so many changes of emotion for me these last three weeks," Incaviglia said. "There I was in Philly, not playing, trying to figure out, 'What body part am I going to work on in the weight room,' or 'How many miles am I going to do on this treadmill?' And now all of a sudden, I'm asking, 'Hey, did Chicago win?' 'Did the Yankees win?' It's amazing the emotional roller coaster you can go on.

"When you're on a last-place team and you sit on the bench when you're not playing, you just kind of sit there to pass the time. Here, when you sit on the bench, you're on the top step. Every game's so important. Every inning. Every out. Every little thing. It's exciting. It's like a dream. It's what you live for."

But the Ink Man hasn't just been sitting there, dreaming. He crunched a grand slam in his first game. He went into Wednesday night hitting .286, with eight RBIs in eight starts. And he has been such a positive force that the Orioles won't even let him give up the football number (55) they gave him when he first arrived.

"That's OK," Incaviglia said. "I look like a linebacker, anyway."

Then there is Zeile. Three weeks ago, he was the cleanup hitter on a team that couldn't score, putting up attractive-looking numbers that meant nothing.

Now he's the No. 3 hitter in the greatest lineup ever assembled, hitting .333 going into Wednesday night, being looked upon as the perfect final piece in the Orioles' puzzle.

"It's been a long time," he said, "since I've felt like I've competed at this kind of level, with this kind of adrenalin. It lifts your whole game. Plus the fact that I've been surrounded by such a great cast. It's something I never could really imagine jumping in here and hitting in this kind of lineup. It's been a great thing for me."

Heck, it would be a great thing for Steve Jeltz. Incaviglia used to be regarded as the Phillies' big power threat. On his current team an outfit that has hit more home runs than any other club in history his 18 homers rank him No. 10 on his own team. Mind-boggling.

But just as this environment changes the way players feel about their job, it also changes the way people look at players. Ten years from now, few people will remember that Zeile ever played for the Phillies. But in Baltimore, he's looking like the acquisition of the century.

"I think Philadelphia's more of a blue-collar, hard-nosed type town," said Kevin Malone, the Orioles' assistant general manager. "We're more of a laid-back town. And Todd's more of a fit-in-type player. He's not a guy who jumps out at you, just because of his style of play. In Philadelphia, I don't think that's their kind of guy. But in Baltimore, we've got a lot of those type of players. And here, they fit."

Going into Wednesday night, the Orioles were 12-4 since they traded for these two guys. So obviously, they got precisely what they were looking for. And what, exactly, was that, anyhow?

"I think," Malone said, "we just needed a little taste of the Phillie Phanatic."

Pub Date: 9/19/96

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