First place, wire to wire Orioles in playoffs: Not that dispassion reigned before, but real excitement begins now.

September 26, 1997

OUR HATS ARE OFF to the Orioles, who won their first division title since 1983 and did so in historic fashion. They became only the sixth team in baseball history to remain in first place all season, joining the likes of Babe Ruth's '27 Yankees and Eric Davis' 1990 Cincinnati Reds.

The team broke a 14-year drought, the longest in club history. Of course, this is but a first step. Beating the Seattle Mariners in the division series comes next. After that, it's Cleveland or, better yet, the despised New York Yankees for the American League pennant. The World Series follows.

Baltimore fans don't want to get ahead of themselves, but it will be hard to expect patience, or even sanity, in the next few weeks in a town obsessed with Oriole Magic.

Talk of the team has dominated local conversation. The big social event of the summer and fall has become an evening at Camden Yards. Even when the team wasn't winning, fans packed Oriole Park night after night -- while TV pictures beamed from stadiums elsewhere revealed acres of empty seats.

Predictions that the novelty of Baltimore's new stadium would wear off after a couple of summers, or that the baseball strike of 1984-85 would sour fans, proved false. In fact, it seems as though the only topic that interests Baltimoreans these days concerns such questions as: Should Cal sit? Should Cal play? What's really wrong with Cal's back? Should Cal drink skim or 1 percent?

Orioles fans expect much of this team. So does majority owner Peter Angelos. It is a veteran club with a sprinkling of youth, a team that seems to rise to the occasion. The players will have to do just that when they travel to Seattle next week to take on super-fastballer Randy Johnson, known simply as ''the Big Unit.'' By the time the Orioles return to Baltimore to complete the series, this town should be in a baseball frenzy. We can't wait.

Pub Date: 9/26/97

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