Braves rematch lacking drama NL-leading Atlanta visits disappointing O's


June 05, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- Interleague play resumes tonight when the Atlanta Braves arrive at Camden Yards for a three-game series. A year ago, the same matchup represented a compelling novelty act. Circumstances and a ridiculous schedule have made this weekend's rematch little more than a necessary evil.

"When they came up with the idea of interleague play, I don't think the intent was for the enjoyment of players," says center fielder Brady Anderson, who for roughly 24 hours last winter considered Atlanta as a free agent. "It was designed for the fans' enjoyment. They give us the schedule. We play it."

Last June the Orioles measured themselves against a team that had been to four World Series in the previous six seasons. They acquitted themselves nicely, winning, 4-3, 6-4 and 5-3, in a series that matched its stratospheric hype.

The Orioles never scored before the sixth inning but won a showdown of bullpens. Mike Mussina overcame his allergic reaction to batting practice to hit safely against John Smoltz. Jimmy Key out-dueled Greg Maddux. Chris Hoiles whiffed five times before winning the 12-inning second game with an opposite-field home run. After his team completed the sweep, majority owner Peter Angelos made the season's only tour of the Orioles clubhouse while Davey Johnson detailed his managerial masterpiece.

The Orioles left Atlanta leading the AL East by nine games with a 45-19 record. They have since gone 81-76 and now contend with a piecemeal rotation.

At least another piece is returning. Mike Mussina starts tomorrow in his first appearance since taking a line drive to the head May 14. Manager Ray Miller estimates Mussina won't push past 100 pitches.

As for the Braves' vaunted rotation, they may experience a tighter strike zone than what they typically see.

"They get to pitch in our ballpark. They also get to hit in our ballpark. It should be a good series. It'll be a good barometer to see where we're at, I guess. I feel better having Moose going out there," Miller said.

Tonight, the Orioles' fan base gets a chance to embrace Gambrills native Denny Neagle. When last seen locally, Neagle broke up the Tops in Sports banquet at Towson University with his patented train whistle. Now he tries to break up the Orioles' recent 8-4 run. Maddux, the four-time Cy Young Award winner, starts Sunday.

An underlying message might be: Enjoy it while it lasts. For all its initial appeal, interleague play has made a mess of scheduling. The two-game series and geographically challenged travel stand as its legacy.

With an unimpressed membership, the Major League Baseball Players Association must vote to continue the experiment after this season.

"I think a lot of guys have opinions on it," says first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. "Most guys don't think it's worth the scheduling problems it creates. It certainly makes it more difficult. But if it's better for the game, maybe you should keep it."

Adjustments were made this season after managers railed against late-season interleague games affecting division races. The Orioles opened last September against the Florida Marlins. Interleague play ends this season before the All-Star break.

"Last year seemed like a little bigger deal," says infielder Jeff Reboulet. "Maybe because we were playing in their park with their rules. This will be at our place, so it just seems like another home game."

Pub Date: 6/05/98

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