Relax, O's fans, there's time to panic later

October 05, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

Let's not think about it.

Let's not think about Mike Mussina pitching on three days' rest.

Let's not think about Randy Johnson meeting the law of averages.

Let's not think about the Orioles becoming the first team in major-league history to lose a best-of-five series by dropping the final three games at home.

It's not going to happen, is it?

It had better not, or the warehouse will be condemned.

Owner Peter Angelos will fire you-know-who.

And an entire city will suffer a news breakdown.

Really, there's no reason to panic.

What's a $55 million payroll down the drain?

Uh, for the sake of all those good people who got the Orioles this far, let's not think about it.

Let's think happy thoughts.

Let's think about Johnson's 1-5 record in nine career starts in Baltimore. And let's think about the Mariners' Game 5 pitcher, rookie Ken Cloude.

There wouldn't be any pressure on the Cloude, would there?

He has made all of nine major-league starts.

And if he somehow beat Scott Erickson, he would be hated in his hometown.

On the other hand, if this series goes to a Game 5, the Orioles won't exactly be in a relaxed mode.

Not with their owner breathing fire, their manager trying to save his job and their fans climbing the foul poles.

"Obviously, anything can change anytime in a short series," Orioles shortstop Mike Bordick said. "You definitely don't want the tides to turn."

It hasn't happened yet -- the Orioles still lead the Division Series, two games to one. And frankly, it was unrealistic to expect them to win three straight from the powerful Mariners.

They could close this sucker today if Mussina turns in another gem. They could close it out if Johnson suffers his usual meltdown at Camden Yards.

Turn out the lights!

Time for another blackout.

The weather forecast calls for another beautiful day, but perhaps groundskeeper Paul Zwaska can spot a hurricane somewhere around South America on his famous radar.

That would be good for a two-hour rain delay, and another legendary tirade by Seattle manager Lou Piniella.

"What time is the start, 4: 07?" Pinella asked.

That's right, Lou.

"No, we don't anticipate anything," he said, smiling.

Oh, Piniella is loving this underdog stuff. He earned another crab cakes-and-Chardonnay dinner last night. And surely, he knows there are only so many times the Mariners can lose to the Orioles behind Johnson.

It has happened four times this season, including Game 1 of this series. But even Mussina expressed concern that Johnson is due to take out years of frustration on the Orioles.

"When we won the other day, I was kind of curious about how many teams had beaten him three times in one year," Mussina said, referring to Johnson's three losses to the Orioles (his other start resulted in a no-decision).

"I can't say there's too many. Now they're asking us to do it four times. It's an interesting situation, but it's just a ballgame. We've had some success. I think our guys are OK about it."

Manager Davey Johnson said he "more than likely" will play his JV lineup again, sitting Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar and B. J. Surhoff. But this time, the Orioles must face Johnson in the twilight, increasing the fear factor.

Indeed, Johnson can set a terrifying tone if he comes high and inside early -- like, on his first pitch to Brady Anderson.

Don't rule out John Kruk II.

This is hardball now.

Johnson is only 2-2 lifetime in the postseason, but two years ago, he beat the California Angels in a one-game playoff to decide the AL West title, then won Game 3 of the Division Series against the New York Yankees with the Mariners down 2-0.

But is this the same pitcher?

Scouts clocked Johnson in only the 88-89 mph range in Game 1. His three strikeouts matched a season low. And like Mussina, he will be pitching on three days' rest for the first time this season.

Mussina is uncomfortable in that routine -- he was slow to endorse the switch to a four-man rotation last season. But last month, he said that pitching on short rest in the postseason would be no problem.

If he blows up today, Johnson could be second-guessed for not pitching Scott Kamieniecki in Game 4 and holding back Mussina until Game 5. But once again, the Orioles' ace has something to prove.

He delighted in silencing his critics who contended that he couldn't win a big game Wednesday night. And he would like nothing better than to defy all those who say he can't pitch under adverse conditions today.

Mussina is 2-2 with a 5.25 ERA in five career starts on three days' rest, and this is a more rapid turnaround than usual because of the late-afternoon start.

He needs to come up big again, or the Orioles could be in trouble.

"I think we're fine. I like our chances," Palmeiro said.

The Orioles are still in command, aren't they?

Of course, they are.

Let's think happy thoughts, not about all that can go wrong.

2 up, 1 down

This is the third time in franchise history that the Orioles have stumbled when going for a sweep in a best-of-five playoff series. They came back to clinch the others in Game 4:

Yr. Series .. Opp. .. Gm. 3 .. Gm. 4

'79 ALCS .. Calif. .. L 4-3 .. W 8-0

'96 ALDS .. Cle. .... L 9-4 .. W 4-3

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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