O's heady play has hearts beating wildly

July 24, 1998|By JOHN EISENBERG

The heart says it's true, the Orioles do have a shot at catching the Red Sox and making the playoffs as a wild-card qualifier.

The head says such talk should be illegal until the club is over .500, where it hasn't been for more than two months.

The heart says that doesn't matter. Look at the ground that's been gained in the past two weeks. Look at the teetering Red Sox, who tend to fold like a basket of laundry. The Orioles have a chance. You can't deny it.

The head says yeah, you watch, everyone will end up lamenting the blown opportunity to trade veterans for prospects who could have made a difference down the line.

The heart says who cares about the future? As bad as the Orioles were before, they're that good now. And Rafael Palmeiro's game-winning home run the other night was one of those moments when you said, "Hmm, something special is brewing."

The head says get serious, this isn't the movies.

The heart says this is serious, thank you. Going into last night's game, the Orioles were 50-51 and eight games behind the Red Sox. Two years ago, they were 50-51 and five games behind the Mariners in the wild-card race. And two years ago, of course, they came back to make the playoffs and beat the Indians in a Division Series. So how can anyone say they don't have a shot now?

The head says this is a far different situation than 1996. Just completely different. These Orioles had to win 12 of 13 games just to get within eight games of the Red Sox. They had to sprint at top speed, in other words, just to get in the playoff picture. Not a good sign. They still have a lot of ground to make up and they can't stay this hot.

The heart says OK, maybe not this hot. But they can stay hot enough to catch the mediocre competition in the wild-card race.

The head says baloney, it's just a tease. One bad week would still do them in. One four-game losing streak and they're toast. That's the slim margin of error they're left with after playing so poorly before the All-Star break. And hey, no team plays that lifelessly for that long and then suddenly becomes unbeatable. That's a fantasy, not reality. Don't be fooled. This was, is and will be a .500 team.

The heart says why can't they turn it around and go on to make the playoffs? What's stopping them? This is baseball, the least predictable of the major sports. Far stranger things have happened.

The head says the starting pitching isn't dependable enough. Jimmy Key and Scott Kamieniecki not only have to come back and pitch, but pitch well -- hardly a sure bet. And please, this is a team that was still in fourth place in the AL East going into last night's game. Fourth place! So let's not print the playoff tickets just yet.

The heart says at least the season has gotten interesting, which it wasn't before.

The head says that's the same, foolish "short-term gain" trap that the Orioles' decision-makers fell into earlier this week when they said they'd stick with this team for the rest of the season and not sell off some of the parts for prospects. That's what they should have done.

The heart says only a Scrooge would break up a team that's just starting to jell with a playoff berth still in sight.

The head says it's still a long-odds proposition that they'll make the playoffs. A poor percentage play. Better to get something valuable (read: prospects) out of a season in which the Yankees clearly are the AL's best and headed to the World Series.

The heart says those trades were never going to happen because other clubs weren't offering enough in return. It's pointless even to talk about it. And about the Yankees, you can't assume anything even if they are clearly the AL's best. The Orioles were the AL's best a year ago and look what happened to them in the playoffs.

The head says you watch, everyone will jump back off the bandwagon as soon as they lose three in a row.

The heart says they might not lose three in a row if they keep this up.

The head says c'mon, maybe they're playing better and all that, but we're still talking about a team on the outskirts of the wild-card race. Let's not give them too much credit. It's the same team that was 30 games behind the Yankees in the loss column at the All-Star break. You can't pretend that didn't happen.

The heart says that was then, not now. And OK, maybe this run won't amount to anything. But it's getting more serious, that's for sure. You can't explain it, but you don't have to explain it.

The head says here's betting a nickel that they're out of it by Labor Day.

The heart says make it a dime.

Pub Date: 7/24/98

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