O's no longer drowning, but treading water falls short

June 24, 1998|By John Eisenberg

The Orioles are playing better in June than they did in May. Not that they could play much worse than they did in May.

But while they finally have found their footing again lately, they're still not playing well enough to make something out of a nothing season.

Yes, they have re-established a slow drip of success with 12 wins in their past 22 games, counting last night's loss to the Mets at Camden Yards.

But a slow drip of success isn't enough. They need a waterfall.

A winning streak.

A run of wins that announces that they're not going to settle for being baseball's biggest bust.

Sounds good. But it isn't happening.

The Orioles can't win more than two games in a row, much less embark on a long run of prosperity.

They have erected the foundation of several potential hot streaks recently, only to watch them all quickly topple.

At some point, they'll have to do better if they want to make any noise this season.

When you crater as decisively as they did last month, with 17 losses in 28 games, you have to respond at some point with the same move in the other direction.

The Orioles still haven't done that.

They're back to winning more than they lose, which beats the alternative and stands as a feat in itself given the fluctuations in their starting rotation.

But they're still not winning enough.

Not when they remain 21 losses behind the division-leading Yankees and, more importantly, 10 losses behind the wild-card leaders, the Red Sox.

Not when they have lost ground to the Red Sox over the past 10 days.

Not when they still have to look up to see .500, the definition of mediocrity.

At some point, with the All-Star break nearing, the Orioles are going to have to avoid stumbling when they put themselves in position to get hot.

At some point, they're going to have to avoid stalling out at exactly the wrong time.

That's what has happened several times recently: an encouraging win or two followed by a loss. Or two.

A door opened ever so slightly, then slammed shut.

A step forward, a step backward, another couple of days lost.

Remember those two straight wins against the Yankees last week? Mike Mussina lost the next night, and a second straight defeat followed.

Remember when Scott Erickson threw 148 pitches against the Blue Jays last weekend, giving club its second straight win? That budding momentum was quashed when Sidney Ponson was bombed the next day.

The latest and best possibility came last night, in the wake of Mussina's two-hitter on Monday, a huge emotional lift for a team that had foundered without its fallen ace.

Late in that game, Cal Ripken was caught in a rundown and escaped when the ball skipped off his helmet.

"Those are the kinds of things we weren't doing when we were losing," Mussina said.

The inference was that maybe, just maybe, the club's luck was starting to change. Maybe, at last, a winning streak was at hand.

That certainly appeared the case when the Orioles took a 3-2 lead into a rain delay in the middle of the sixth inning last night. With thunderstorms pelting the area, a rain-shortened victory seemed likely.

But then the rain stopped, the game resumed, the Mets came to play and the Orioles didn't. A 3-2 lead turned into a 6-3 defeat as galling as any the club has experienced all season, which is saying something.

The change in the weather "took us a little out of sorts," manager Ray Miller said.

As if the Mets and their 16 hits didn't.

It seemed the Orioles were disappointed they didn't get a rain-shortened gift win. They were flat when the game resumed. You decide what that says about them.

Just call it another blown chance for them to start a winning streak.

More evidence that they're going nowhere this season.

Injuries to several starting pitchers have made it difficult for any lasting momentum to build, of course. At this point, getting two well-pitched starts in a row is a feat.

Orioles starters have lasted six innings in only nine of 22 games this month, meaning the club has repeatedly had to scramble to win. Considering that, the winning record in June is no small accomplishment.

Then again, that's exactly what it is -- a small accomplishment. For a team that needs much bigger accomplishments.

It's hard to see them making a significant run with a rotation that includes Ponson, Doug Johns and Pete Smith.

On the other hand, Mussina is back, Brady Anderson is on a roll, Rafael Palmeiro is among the AL's hottest power hitters and Cal Ripken is hitting again.

One way or another lately, the Orioles have found a way to win more often than they lose.

But it's not adding up to much.

They still haven't gotten back to .500 after falling apart in May.

"We're still trying to dig out from where we were a month ago, which was in pretty bad shape," Mussina said.

They're playing better, yes. You can look it up.

But it's not enough.

Until the Orioles put together a winning streak, nothing is enough.

Pub Date: 6/24/98

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