Have-not Twins: O's have shot Wild-card comeback matter of talent, they say


August 19, 1998|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

With a payroll of $69 million, anything is possible. Or so went the verdict among Minnesota Twins players regarding the Orioles' rebirth during the second half of the season.

"First of all, they have the payroll, but they're just doing what everyone expected them to do," Twins pitcher LaTroy Hawkins said of the Orioles' 29-8 record since the break after last night's victory. "They're just doing it in the second half when they didn't do it in the first half. They got things together, and they're on a roll now."

That seemed to be the predominant prescription suggested by Twins players. Take $69 million, add water and voila, you'll eventually win 29 of 37 games.

The Twins are aware that such a mix is not available to them. "Pitching those kids, every night?" Tom Kelly asked. "[The Orioles] have Jimmy Key in the bullpen. What's the average age of our starters? They're just learning how to pitch. We don't have guys like Jimmy Key just hanging out in the bullpen."

While players like Rafael Palmeiro (37 homers, 105 RBIs) and Eric Davis (24 home runs) hit their stride, the Twins' top RBI producer has 61 and their home run leader has 14.

"You have to have talent," said catcher Terry Steinbach, who won a World Series in 1989 with the Oakland Athletics. "If you're short, you won't make up for that."

According to Steinbach, good fortune must also be present. He pTC cites Monday's game as an example. Though Scott Erickson had a strong performance, Steinbach recalls several hard-hit balls by the Twins that went right to people.

"You make your breaks, but you still have to have things go your way," he said.

But for such a simple prescription, examples of teams that had used it successfully -- to convert daylight from a season of darkness -- were scarce.

Kelly mined his memory and found the 1978 New York Yankees, who got hot and won the AL East pennant. Outfielder Otis Nixon summoned his 1993 Atlanta Braves, who came from 9 1/2 games back to win the NL West.

One of the things Nixon remembers is that the team exerted so much effort during its comeback that there was little left for the playoffs. The Philadelphia Phillies easily beat the Braves to reach the World Series.

"We were huffin and puffin when we got through, and we got beat real quick," Nixon said.

Veteran Paul Molitor said that Palmeiro's power outburst during the early part of the second half, and Davis' 30-game hitting streak may have provided the team with a reason to stay interested.

"Sometimes, when someone's doing something outside of the club, like a hitting streak, that's so much better because that's getting a lot of the attention," Molitor said.

But others cited one factor in the Orioles' surge not available before 1995: the wild card.

Twenty-six and a half games out of the division lead at the break, the Orioles' playoff hopes would have been dead, along with any motivation to play inspired ball.

Instead, the 15 1/2 -game deficit in the wild-card race left them merely wounded, requiring the merely remarkable run to get back into contention, as opposed to the impossible run that would have been necessary otherwise.

"The wild card has helped a lot of teams keep motivated," veteran pitcher Bob Tewksbury said. "The wild card has its advantages and disadvantages, but it's given everyone in that locker room hope -- everyone in this city -- that Baltimore can make it to the postseason."

Pub Date: 8/19/98

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