On scale of sweetness, 7-0 is an easy 10

September 07, 1997|By JOHN EISENBERG

NEW YORK -- Savor these days, Orioles fans.

They just don't get any better than this -- not in the regular season, at least.

And they certainly don't come around very often.

You have heard of pitching a perfect game?

The Orioles are pitching a perfect season against the Yankees in 1997.

They're making all the plays, getting all the hits, winning all the games, writing all the headlines.

They're turning a September showdown in the Bronx into an epic slam-dunk, shattering their fiercest rivals as they drain all remaining mystery from the AL East race.

The fabled Yankees mystique, the big crowds in the Bronx, the Yankees' domination of the Orioles a year ago -- none of it matters this year.

The Orioles are 7-0 against the Yankees for the season and 9 1/2 games up in the standings with 23 to play after yesterday's 4-1 win, which moved them to within one win of a four-game sweep of the season's biggest series.

What's wrong with that picture? Why, absolutely nothing, of course.

It's only the realization of every Orioles fan's fondest dream -- the Orioles thrashing and humiliating the Yankees with a division title at stake, and at Yankee Stadium, no less -- and the Orioles are pulling it off almost without breaking into a sweat.

No nervous ninth innings, no "cover your eyes" moments, no horrifying mistakes making the hill that much harder to climb.

The Orioles are just pounding the Yankees on a daily basis, their successes coming with such apparent ease that it almost seems routine.

Which it certainly isn't.

How often is this going to happen? How often is everything going to break so right and so easily for the Orioles?

How often are the Orioles going to cruise to what amounts to a no-sweat division title?

Oh, maybe once in a generation.

Sure, the Orioles might beat the Yankees and win the division more often than that -- but not this easily.

"I remember something like this happening in 1974," said bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks, who has worn the Orioles' uniform for 29 years as a player and coach. "We came in here [to New York] in September, swept four and came from behind in the standings to beat the Yankees and Red Sox and win the division. That was great."

That also was 23 years ago, so we're not talking about a common occurrence here.

This is even better than 1974 for the Orioles' players, management and fans, with the Red Sox not around to jumble up the lines of the competition.

This time, it's just the Orioles and Yankees fighting it out in the standings, and just the Yankees falling as humbly as a backboard shattered by Shaquille O'Neal.

Life simply can get no better for anyone who pledges allegiance to Camden Yards.

Savor the moment, fans.

"I was part of the first Oriole team that unseated the Yankees [in 1966]," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said yesterday. "It always feels special to beat them."

The Orioles aren't just beating the Yankees this time; they're setting the standard by which all future beatings should be measured.

It's as if they're using up a decade's worth of good, anti-Yankees fortune in one year.

As Hendricks noted, they haven't swept a four-game series at Yankee Stadium since 1974.

And never, until now, have they won seven games in a row over the Yankees in a single season.

Seldom has a good Yankees team -- and this is a good one, just one in a slump -- gone down so quietly.

"Feels good, real good," outfielder Brady Anderson said.

The Orioles are doing it every way possible -- with their arms, gloves and bats. They won with big, bold strokes Friday night, 13-9, and then Scott Erickson threw a four-hitter yesterday, shutting out the Yankees until there were two outs in the ninth.

After yesterday's loss, the Yankees were searching desperately for feel-good vibes.

"No one is going to care [about these losses] if we can get this turned around [on the Orioles] in the postseason," pitcher David Cone said.

He's right, of course, but it's foolish to talk about turning things around on a team in the playoffs when you're 0-7 against that team.

The Orioles are 2 1/2 games better than the Yankees against the rest of the league and seven games better head-to-head. The conclusion? Just as the Yankees simply were better than the Orioles a year ago, the Orioles simply are better this year.

That's not to say that the Yankees can't rise up and upset the Orioles in the playoffs, because they certainly can.

But they might want to beat the Orioles at least once before they start talking about playoff upsets.

In any case, this isn't about the playoffs; it's about a regular season that's looking more and more as if it'll earn four stars.

The Orioles have taken on the Yankees, battled them and blown them away.

The teams still have five games to play, including four next week at Camden Yards, but those aren't going to matter now.

With seven straight wins against the Yankees, including five in the Bronx, the Orioles have defined this season and made it their own.

Savor the feeling, fans.

It's rare.

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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