O's season is bigger pain than a few injured pitchers

July 06, 1998|By JOHN EISENBERG

NEW YORK -- Those who think the Orioles didn't accomplish anything in the first half of the season had better think again.

They crash-landed an even 30 games out in the loss column at the All-Star break, quite an accomplishment for a team with a $69 million payroll.

And after watching them get there with three one-run losses to the Yankees over the weekend, please, can we stop with this nonsense about injured pitchers being their only problem?

The Orioles' collapse is about much more than that, despite what they continue to insist.

Doubt it? Look no further than this latest Yankees sweep. Orioles starters delivered three well-pitched games. The club still found a way to go 0-3.

Mike Mussina was superb Friday night. Scott Erickson allowed one run yesterday. Doug Drabek had his best outing in six weeks Saturday.

Didn't matter. The Orioles still lost. And lost. And lost again.

How? Let us count the ways. And let us use those ways to sum up what ails the Orioles beyond the first-half injuries to Jimmy Key, Scott Kamieniecki and Mussina.

Friday night, with a lineup that included Cal Ripken batting fifth -- what? -- they couldn't get down a sacrifice bunt in a tie game. Incredibly, manager Ray Miller asked B. J. Surhoff to make an attempt with two strikes, leading to the strikeout of one of his most dangerous hitters.

Then Miller left Jesse Orosco in to lose the game in the bottom of the ninth even though the situation screamed for Armando Benitez, who was warmed and ready.

Saturday's loss was marked by an umpire's poor call that cut short a potential ninth-inning rally. Can't blame the Orioles for that. But you can blame them for not hitting in the clutch, although that's become standard operating procedure for a team hitting some 50 points lower than the Yankees with runners in scoring position.

Yesterday, again, there were numerous chances to score against the Yankees starter, David Cone. Final score: Yankees 1, Orioles 0.

"I don't think anyone played the Yankees that good all year," Miller said of the overall series.

Who cares about that? Playing teams tough is acceptable solace in Little League. In the majors, it's the least you should do every day.

And it's another thing the Orioles haven't always done.

Let's face it, you can't fall 30 games out in the loss column by early July because of one problem. A collapse of that magnitude requires contributions of all kinds from everyone in the organization.

Let's start with the front office, which lost Randy Myers during the off-season and added Drabek, Norm Charlton, Ozzie Guillen and Joe Carter. Yuck.

Chasing off manager Davey Johnson was another major mistake, as all of baseball knows except Peter Angelos.

It's hard to assess how much of the blame Miller deserves, but his continual blaming of injuries hasn't helped.

He was at it again yesterday, complaining about having to play the series without Harold Baines, who hits the Yankees well.

Tell it to the Yankees, who played the series without Bernie Williams and Chuck Knoblauch, two of their top players. That's a much bigger loss than Baines. And the Yankees still won, as they have all year despite suffering injuries to numerous key players.

The fact is that every team has injuries, and almost every team has key injuries. The Angels also have lost three starters this season, but they're not floundering; they're steaming toward a division title.

Good teams overcome injuries. Bad teams don't.

The Orioles are a bad team. Not because of injuries. They're just a bad team, period.

Yes, their pitching is their biggest problem. But it's so many other things, too. The absence of speed. The inability to throw out opposing base stealers. The inability to manufacture runs. Disappointing seasons from Brady Anderson, Ripken, Benitez and others.

Only two AL teams have left more runners on base.

On and on it goes. Base-running mistakes. Questionable decisions. An endless stream of little things.

This is a team with only two wins all season when trailing after seven innings.

A team with an 11-33 record when the opposition scores first.

A team that doesn't exactly go down fighting, in other words.

But what did Miller say yesterday when asked if things might get better after the All-Star break?

"We'll be fine if we get healthy," he said. "If we don't get healthy "

Please, enough.

Miller should heed his old boss, Earl Weaver, who had a simple way of dealing with injured players. He pretended they were dead.

Reporters who asked Weaver questions about injured players didn't get many answers. Weaver wouldn't talk about them. What was the use? They couldn't help him win. They couldn't play at all.

All they could do was give him an excuse for losing.

And in the end, there are no excuses for losing in the majors.

Not to diminish the importance of the collapse of the starting rotation. Who knows what would have happened if Mussina, Key and Kamieniecki had made every start as scheduled?

But when you're 12 games under .500 and 30 games out in the loss column at the All-Star break, you have other problems, too. A lot of other problems.

After the Yankees' latest sweep of baseball's biggest bust of 1998, let's not debate the point any more.

Pub Date: 7/06/98

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