Miracle run has no room for bad hops

July 27, 1998|By John Eisenberg

For anyone who might have forgotten that the Orioles were operating with a minuscule margin of error in the American League wild-card race, yesterday's loss to the Mariners was a harsh reminder.

One grounder that failed to take one hop was all it took to push the Orioles 10 games behind the Red Sox in the loss column.

Hello, reality. You aren't much fun, are you?

Even with their run of success since the All-Star break, the Orioles still can't afford bad hops, bad luck, bad endings, even bad room service.

Basically, they can't afford for anything large or small not to go their way, which is a circumstance that tends to confront teams that win only 38 of 88 games before the All-Star break.

As much as you probably want to close your eyes and pretend that those first three-plus months of the season didn't happen, they did. You can look it up. And the Orioles stank. They dug themselves a colossal hole.

A hole so deep that their recent two-week run of hot baseball wasn't enough to fill it in. Not nearly enough.

"After we had that second nine-game losing streak [before the All-Star break], I remember thinking, 'Well, now we need two nine-game winning streaks to offset this,' " Orioles center fielder Brady Anderson said after yesterday's 10-4 loss on a sunny afternoon at Camden Yards. "We've played well lately and had one [winning streak]. But we obviously need another."

Obviously. They have 56 games left to make up those 10 losses. That's a lot of ground and not much time.

In other words, losing two of three to the Mariners over the weekend wasn't fatal, but, well, it was pretty ominous.

"[The losses] hurt a little bit," Orioles manager Ray Miller said. "But when you're playing the Mariners, they have a potent offense."

And a terrible record. They're eight games under .500, almost a bigger bust than the Orioles, if that's possible. Their bullpen is a catastrophe, the easiest of marks.

The Orioles let it get away.

The course of the weekend laid bare their microscopic margin of error. A 7-4 victory on Friday night was a party at the park, with the Orioles landing back over .500 for the first time in months. Rafael Palmeiro hit two home runs. It seemed they'd never lose again.

Within 40 hours, they'd lost twice and returned to below .500. Meanwhile, the Red Sox were winning twice on the out-of-town scoreboard.

"The last thing you want to do is give away ground, especially after we made up so much in a short time," said pitcher Scott Erickson, yesterday's loser. "We really can't afford to be giving away any games at this point."

That's exactly what they did yesterday. Gave one away. Shortstop Jeff Reboulet's error on a seemingly routine grounder in the third inning led to five unearned runs, which was more than enough for the Mariners.

The grounder off Alex Rodriguez's bat scooted when it was supposed to hop, Reboulet said, resulting in a blown chance for the third out of a scoreless inning. The next four batters delivered a walk, single and two doubles.

"I didn't get real close to [the ball]," Reboulet said, "but that's the way it goes. It just didn't bounce where I thought it was going to bounce."

The Orioles responded with three runs of their own off Seattle's Jamie Moyer in the bottom of the third, but they didn't keep hitting and the Mariners did, and, suddenly, as the ballpark emptied, it was clear just how much more they need than that run of 14 wins in 15 games.

It's still OK for fans to indulge in the fantasy of watching them come all the way back to the make the playoffs, but, let's face it, the chances aren't good. It's a terrible bet. The Orioles are still 24 games behind the Yankees in the AL East, for crying out loud. Their pitching is suspect. They're no power.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are a solid 17 games over .500 after winning three of four from the Blue Jays over the weekend.

"You can't expect the teams ahead of us to falter," Anderson said. "The Red Sox are playing well. They're not going to give it to us. We're going to have to take it from them."

Pause.

"We have to stay hot and put together another run like we had, or "

Or what?

Goodbye, that's what.

Pub Date: 7/27/98

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