'97 season in review

October 17, 1997|By Peter Schmuck

Davis' inspirational comeback

Outfielder Eric Davis endeared himself to Orioles fans in record time with his hard-charging style of play and the catalytic effect he had on the Orioles' offense, but the baseball world was shocked when it was discovered in June that he was suffering from colon cancer.

Surgeon Keith Lillemoe removed a large cancerous mass from Davis' intestinal tract, and doctors recommended a long course of chemotherapy. Davis accepted their advice, but refused to let the often-debilitating treatment program prevent him from returning to help the Orioles clinch the American League East title.

He returned to the starting lineup on Sept. 15 and was a factor in both of the club's postseason series. He had a big two-run single in the Division Series against the Seattle Mariners and a decisive home run in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.

Rocking Randy

Mariners ace Randy Johnson went 20-2 against the rest of baseball this year, but he went into the tank when he faced the Orioles. They won all three games he started during the regular season, and Mike Mussina outpitched him twice in the postseason, including the deciding game of the Division Series.

Johnson, perhaps the most overpowering pitcher of his generation, has a 3-9 career record against the Orioles, including postseason play.

If you could figure out the reason and bottle it, the rest of the American League would beat a path to your door.

Don't shoot, I'm only the manager

Manager Davey Johnson has the highest winning percentage of any active major-league manager, and he has never finished lower than second in any full season he has managed in the big leagues. So why is his job security always an issue?

Johnson said in July that he felt he had to reach the World Series to feel good about his chances of returning for the final year of his three-year contract.

"I signed a three-year contract," he said at the time, "but I've always felt I would have to get it done in two."

He is not a favorite of owner Peter Angelos - and his future with the club appeared to be in jeopardy after he fined Roberto Alomar $10,500 for missing an exhibition game and a team function - but Angelos said last week that there is no reason to think that Johnson will not be back for the 1998 season.

Ripken moves over

Future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken did not immediately embrace the club's decision to move him from shortstop to third base, but he agreed to make the move when the team signed free-agent shortstop Mike Bordick, and it worked out well.

Bordick brought added range to the infield, and Ripken - reluctant or not - finally brought some stability to third base, where the club had been without a front-line veteran presence since the club traded Doug DeCinces after the 1981 season.

The new infield combination took some time to click. Bordick struggled at the plate for much of the season, Ripken was hampered by back problems at his new position and Roberto Alomar was slowed by a string of injuries, but everything fell into place in September, and the infield defense was superb in the postseason.

Cal's back

Ripken became the center of controversy in September, when he lapsed into a deep slump. He had been struggling with back soreness for much of the second half, and there were calls for him to take a seat for the good of the team.

He rebuffed talk of ending his consecutive-games streak and finished the season, then pulled out of his slump and played great defensively in the postseason.

Banged-up Brady

Center fielder Brady Anderson had high hopes of picking up where he left off in 1996, when he became the 14th player in major-league history to hit 50 or more home runs in a season. He never really got the chance.

Anderson cracked a rib diving back into first base during a spring-training game and had to alter his approach at the plate to avoid aggravating the injury. He hit only 18 home runs, but compensated by excelling in a more standard leadoff role. He ranked among the league leaders in on-base percentage for most of the season and finished with a .393 percentage to lead the club. He also led the team in walks (84) and doubles (39) and triples (seven).

Though he also battled leg problems throughout the year, he was one of the Orioles' most productive hitters during the postseason.

The Big Three

The top three pitchers in the Orioles' starting rotation - Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson and Jimmy Key - got off to an amazing start, going a combined 28-4 while the club was building a big first-half lead. They finished with 47 victories. It was the first time since 1982 that the Orioles had three pitchers with at least 15 victories.

The season ended with Mussina and Erickson going strong, but Key finished on a big downswing. He had won 11 of his first 12 decisions, but went 5-9 the rest of the way and won just one of his final nine regular-season starts at Camden Yards.

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