As O's push, those Sox stay up

August 14, 1998|By John Eisenberg

CLEVELAND -- The Orioles have regained their self-respect with a second-half run that reached a high point with last night's comeback victory at Jacobs Field.

If only they could gain ground in the wild-card race as easily.

They came from four runs down to beat the Indians on Rafael Palmeiro's three-run homer in the 12th inning last night, giving them 25 wins in 32 games since the All-Star break.

As pathetic as they played in losing 50 of 88 games before the break, they're playing that well now.

But here's the caveat: They're still eight games behind the Red Sox, the wild-card leaders, with 42 games to go.

They're just 3 1/2 games closer to the Red Sox than they were a month ago.

As well as they're playing, they're starting to run out of time. There's just no getting around that. The math is starting to stink.

If the Sox play .500 ball for the rest of the season, the Orioles have to go 29-13 to catch them.

No, that's not impossible given the Orioles' record since the All-Star break. But let's face it, the Sox probably will surpass .500 in a soft home-stretch schedule lined with home games against losing teams.

Waiting for the Sox to crumble is becoming a losing proposition for the Orioles.

The Orioles are holding up their end of the miracle comeback scenario, but the Sox aren't cooperating.

They have the second-best record in the American League and the fifth-best record in the major leagues, showing no signs of embarking on one of their famous collapses.

They were supposed to wobble on a two-week Western trip that ended last week, a period in which the Orioles were expected to gain ground against an easy schedule.

Instead, the Sox went 8-4 on the trip, and the Orioles actually lost ground instead of gaining.

Last night, the Orioles appeared on the verge of losing another game in the standings when they fell four runs behind the Indians in the early innings and the Sox got up four against the Twins at Fenway Park, with Sox ace Pedro Martinez pitching.

But surprise, the Twins knocked out Martinez and rallied to tie in the late innings, and then the Orioles also rallied to tie, and suddenly there was a chance for the Orioles to gain a game instead of losing one.

On such unlikely turns are long-shot comebacks made.

But typically, as they have done all season, the Sox gathered themselves and found a way to win. Final: 8-7, Boston.

The Orioles saw that score posted at Jacobs Field and knew they almost had to win. That may sound extreme for mid-August, but at this point, trailing the Sox by nine games in the loss column, the Orioles can't afford any more steps in the wrong direction.

To the rescue came a bullpen that pitched 8 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, giving the offense a chance to make up the deficit. Brady Anderson started the rally with a homer in the sixth and Lenny Webster completed it with a single up the middle to tie the score in the eighth.

After Anderson and Davis singled off Indians reliever Steve Reed to start the top of the 12th, Palmeiro hit Reed's first pitch high and deep into the right field seats. The Orioles celebrated on the top step of their dugout and mobbed Palmeiro upon his return.

It was a symbolic moment for a team that seemed utterly lifeless just six weeks ago, a team that Expos manager Felipe Alou had accused of lacking heart.

Coming back to the park in which their World Series chances melted away in 1997, playing a team headed for the AL playoffs as a division champion, the Orioles were anything but heartless.

But as happy as they were in the clubhouse after the game, they were still no closer to the Sox than they'd been before the first pitch four hours earlier.


It's a key weekend for the Orioles by any reckoning, playing four games on the road against the AL Central-leading Indians while the Sox play four at home against the going-nowhere Twins.

For the Sox, it's a chance to gain ground on the Orioles and all but bury them.

For the Orioles, it's a time to play defense in the standings, to do whatever they can to keep from losing ground and slipping out of sight.

Last night's comeback was momentous in that regard, a loss turned into a win.

The Orioles are playing gamely right now, getting hitting when they need hitting and pitching when they need pitching. Quite a sight from a team that displayed little of such qualities before the All-Star break.

They're doing all they can to make something out of a nothing season.

But they need help now, with the margin still sizable and the season started to dwindle.

They need help, and the Red Sox aren't cooperating.

Pub Date: 8/14/98

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