Let's not get hot, bothered by hot streak

July 14, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

Vacation? What vacation?

Peter Angelos is sitting in France, glued to CNN.

Orioles 11, Red Sox 7.

"Sweep!"

Orioles 5, Blue Jays 0.

"Disconnect Gillick's phone! No-trade clauses for all!"

Angelos is due to return Sunday, and if this keeps up, he'll bring the Arc de Triomphe with him.

Nerio Rodriguez added to the air of intoxication at Camden Yards last night, pitching six shutout innings in his first start since May 25.

Damn the torpedoes! Print those playoff tickets! Full speed ahead!

The Orioles are so hot, Cal Ripken hit a foul ball last night that disabled his favorite columnist's computer permanently.

We had just typed "sit" and were about to add "down" when Ripken's heat-seeking missile headed straight into the press box, causing yours truly to dive for cover.

It was a gutless, selfish act, putting one's life above The Sun's Gateway 2000.

Whoa, I just ripped myself!

Enough of this negativity, and back to the resurrection.

This is sports. The goal is to win. And when the Orioles take four from Boston, then shut out Toronto behind a dazzling performance by Super Nerio, it's only natural to get excited.

The problem is separating fantasy from reality. The trade deadline is 17 days away, and the Orioles still trail Boston by 13 losses. They can't justify sacrificing the long term for the short term, not this time.

Hate to throw cold water on this red-hot juggernaut, but no one should be deluded by what he'sseen the past five days. If Angelos thinks the Orioles are back in wild-card contention, it would be the worst thing that could happen to this team.

The Orioles are not going to the postseason. They need to trade their potential free agents and lay the groundwork for 1999 and beyond.

Roberto Alomar? Send him to Cleveland.

Jesse Orosco? Ship him to Atlanta.

Eric Davis? Shop him to Boston.

They're all fine players -- that's why they're marketable. The Orioles can't get equal value for them. But at least they can get some young talent.

"Two years ago!" Angelos will bellow to general manager Pat Gillick. "Remember what happened two years ago!"

Ah yes, the spirit of '96.

How could Gillick forget?

The Orioles were 50-51 on July 27, five games behind wild-card leaders Seattle and Chicago. Angelos vetoed the proposed trades of David Wells and Bobby Bonilla, and the team rallied for its first postseason berth in 13 years.

Can it happen again? Well, anything is possible. But the Orioles still trail Boston by 11 1/2 games. They need to win seven of their next eight just to get to 50-51. And after tonight, they visit AL West leaders Texas and Anaheim.

No, this isn't 1996.

Not even close.

For one thing, the other contenders are going to improve by July 31. The Orioles can't keep pace unless they trade more minor-league prospects, and that's the last thing they need to do with their farm system so depleted.

It took 88 wins for them to earn the '96 wild card. To reach that number again, they'll need to play at a .652 clip (45-24). The Red Sox can play sub-.500 (35-37) and win 88 games, the Rangers and Angels just above .500.

As if that's not daunting enough, the Orioles will need to stay hot with only two quality veterans in their rotation and with left-handed relief ace Arthur Rhodes out until at least Sunday with a sore elbow.

Jimmy Key and Scott Kamieniecki are expected back by the end of the month, but who knows whether they will be effective? For that matter, who knows if the bullpen will hold up, with or without Rhodes?

The Orioles' direction would be clear if they hadn't spent the first half rolling over against teams like Tampa Bay, Montreal and Florida. They'd already be in wild-card contention, mulling trades that would strengthen them for the stretch drive.

The problem is, they put themselves in too deep a hole to make a serious run at the wild card. And as well as they're playing now, it appears to be a classic case of too little, too late.

If they keep the team intact and narrowly miss the wild card, then what will have they accomplished? They'll be left with a bushel of draft picks for the free agents they fail to re-sign, nothing more.

This isn't '96, this isn't '96, this isn't '96.

Help!

Here comes another foul ball

Pub Date: 7/14/98

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