Lineup not first order of business for Orioles Johnson is coy on who will bat against Big Unit

October 01, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- Randy Johnson hasn't thrown the Division Series' first pitch yet and the Orioles already have discovered the different sensation of the postseason. Given baseball's second-best record, they've also been handed the role of underdogs.

A 98-64 record apparently carries less weight than a poor September and potentially two starts by Johnson, the Seattle Mariners' Big Unit. They also feel handicapped by a format that hardly rewards a team for a dominant regular season. The Orioles must play the first two games in the raucous Kingdome before returning to Camden Yards this weekend. Their own experience reminds them how dangerous this can be.

"It doesn't surprise me," first baseman Rafael Palmeiro says of his team's perception. "They've got two home games right off the bat. In the playoffs, the home-field advantage is a big factor. In two games on the road, there's not a home-field advantage because you can go home 0-2 like Cleveland did last year."

The Orioles opened last year's Division Series with two home wins against the defending league- champion Cleveland Indians. They then went to Cleveland, where they closed out the series in four games.

"Baseball's the only game where you can have the best record during the season and it doesn't get you any advantage whatsoever," said right fielder Eric Davis.

The Orioles won the regular- season series, 7-4, but enter the Series riding a 15-20 skid over the last five weeks. The Mariners finished 13-10.

The Mariners won eight fewer games this season but enter the series with markedly fewer questions. Orioles manager Davey Johnson continued to play coy about his lineup yesterday. The Orioles may play tonight without leading RBI man Palmeiro; their hottest hitter, Roberto Alomar; and their everyday left fielder, B. J. Surhoff, in the starting lineup. Surhoff and Palmeiro both lobbied Johnson yesterday to start against the Mariners' left-hander. Johnson was noncommittal about what impact their arguments had.

Palmeiro, who led the club with 38 home runs and 110 RBIs, is 1-for-21 lifetime against Johnson and has sat out all three starts against him this season. This, he says, is different.

"If I were writing the lineup card out, I'd be in there, but it's not my call," Palmeiro said. "I don't know that it's frustration, because of all the right-handers you want to have in the lineup. But it's frustrating because it's the playoffs."

Las Vegas may not like the Orioles, but Johnson still does. He believes his team is the healthiest it has been all season. Johnson initially described Alomar as "a maybe" and said the second baseman may try to bat right-handed in a game for the first time since May 29.

However, when Alomar attempted to take some cuts right-handed, his left shoulder began to ache and Johnson scratched the notion.

"I don't want to take a chance of him taking one swing and us losing him for two or three days," Johnson said. "He's just too valuable to this club."

Johnson said Scott Kamieniecki may receive consideration for a Game 4 start should the Orioles take a 2-1 lead in the series. Kamieniecki beat Randy Johnson head-to-head.

The Mariners have the best opportunity of winning games early because of Johnson and a powerful offense that shattered the '96 Orioles single-season home run record. The Orioles have the advantage late because of a dominant bullpen. Closer Randy Myers saved 45 of 46 chances but struggled against the Mariners' right-handed-heavy lineup. Again, it's a matter of respect.

"I think Randy Myers is a very capable closer, but I think he has a lot of respect for our lineup. I don't think Cy Young could close a game against us," said Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez. "We'll go out and compete and battle."

Pub Date: 10/01/97

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