Torre says race is over? Sounds just bit overstated

September 02, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

MIAMI -- This is baseball. Nothing is certain from one day to the next. The 162-game season wears down even the finest of teams.

As a veteran baseball man, Joe Torre understands the game's strange twists and unique rhythms.

Thus, he could not be taken seriously Saturday when he conceded that the Orioles would win the AL East.

"It's All O-ver," screamed the New York Post.

It was half-blarney, half-blasphemy, especially considering that a Yankee, Yogi Berra, uttered the immortal words, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

Yogi knew what he was talking about.

Torre knows better.

It's not over.

It's never over until a team is mathematically eliminated, and the Orioles are still a long way from doing that to the Yankees.

The wild card virtually ensures that the Orioles are going to the postseason. But even with a 6 1/2 -game cushion, they're not a lock to win their first division title since 1983.

Their lead could be down to 4 1/2 by the time they get to New York on Thursday. It could fall to 3 1/2 after Rick Krivda pitches the series opener. And then it could drop to 2 1/2 with the struggling Jimmy Key pitching the second game.

But enough about the pending apocalypse.

The sheer numbers still favor the Orioles, favor them in a big way.

"We're not in a lull," reliever Jesse Orosco said last night. "We have a great team. We're going to do whatever we have to do to stay where we're at. I think we're going to be absolutely fine."

At the absolute worst, they've still got a 13-game edge on Anaheim, the next-closest wild-card team after the Yankees. Blowing that lead would require one of the greatest collapses in major-league history.

Still, the goal is a division title. And guess what? With Randy

Johnson now scheduled to miss his third straight start, with the Mariners' bullpen continuing to falter, Torre and the Seattle-phobic Yankees might want to win it, too.

Thus, it's just slightly alarming that the Orioles have dropped four of five games, including last night's 10-4 loss to the Florida Marlins. Eight games with the Yankees loom. Not great timing.

"It's probably just perfect," manager Davey Johnson countered. "If we're struggling, I'd just as soon go against somebody we've got to play good against. That would push us."

Right now, they need more than a push. Last night, their lineup lacked not just Eric Davis and Roberto Alomar, but also B. J. Surhoff and Brady Anderson. And tonight, the opposing starter is Kevin Brown.

One way or another, the four-game series this weekend still figures to be enormously important. And even with all their concerns about Hideki Irabu, Kenny Rogers and David Cone, the Yankees now have nothing to lose.

That was the purpose of Torre's pseudo-surrender, and it no doubt will serve his team well. If the Yankees win the division, the tabloids can portray it as a miracle. If they don't, well, Torre knew all along the Orioles were just too much.

"They're kicking our tails," Torre told reporters. "They're eight games ahead of us. I don't know how key that series is. What we're doing now, we're competing for the wild card. Baltimore, that's a reach.

"I'm not saying we're going to roll over and play dead or we're not going to win this thing. But we have to win all eight games with them to tie. That's not realistic, the way they've been playing."

Actually, the Orioles' lead was 7 1/2 at the time Torre spoke, but you get the picture. Poor, poor, pitiful Joe works for George Steinbrenner. He wanted to downplay the Orioles' showdown. He wanted to puncture the hype.

Torre can do the math -- the Yankees need to finish 20-7 to tie if the Orioles play .500 the rest of the way, and 24-3 if the Orioles continue at their current .634 clip. Now, in theory, the pressure is off. Why? Because Torre says so.

Frankly, the Orioles found his comments rather comical, especially considering that Torre used Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning Sunday to secure a victory over Montreal and the fearsome Mike Johnson.

Johnson laughed and attributed Torre's comments to "one of those New York media screw-ups," impugning not just the tabloids, but also the New York Times.

"I've got to check and see if he actually said it," Johnson said. "If he did, then give [Paul] O'Neill two weeks off. Rest them up."

Key was equally amused.

"He said that earlier and they played well," said Key, who played for Torre last season in New York. "Maybe he thinks he'd try it again."

Torre said, "You know that wild card is out there," shortly after leaving Baltimore with a 9 1/2 -game deficit in early June. The Yankees indeed rallied, cutting the deficit to 3 1/2 games. But now they need another lift.

It's not over. In this sport, it's never over.

Mind games, real games, the fun is just about to begin.

Pub Date: 9/02/97

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