Orioles end season of spent dreams 6-4 loss to Red Sox, 15 runners left on base reflect season at large

September 28, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- At precisely 4: 24 p.m. a season of broken promises ended, appropriately enough, on Danny Clyburn's checked-swing strikeout. The Boston Red Sox sent the Orioles packing with a 6-4 loss that included 15 men left on base, another loss for Mike Mussina and the realization that a clubhouse overflowing with marquee names will never be the same.

By losing seven of their last eight games and 11 of their last 13, the Orioles finished 79-83, 19 games worse than the '97 edition and 13 games worse than what was required to tie the Red Sox for the wild card.

Let the turnover begin.

"Things need to be straightened out," said manager Ray Miller.

A season that began with champagne on ice ended with a raised beer between players who rode a wildly inconsistent season. While the last two weeks' tumble illustrated a damning tendency, it was a 10-game losing streak that connected August to September that began a season's death watch.

"This year kind of played like the last 10 days or so," summed Mussina, who finished a personally turbulent year at 13-10. "This was perfect for the way we played the rest of the year."

Mussina surrendered three earned runs in five innings, lifting his ERA to 3.49, fifth-best in the league. No matter that he finished among the top five in five significant categories, Mussina never escaped a season filled with injuries and life changes. A ruptured wart in April and a line drive to the skull in May came amidst a disastrous stretch that robbed Miller's rotation of three starters.

A team constructed and kept together for October instead crashed in September, finishing a staggering 35 games off the division lead, its biggest deficit since 1955. A 10-2 start and 22-5 recovery following the All-Star break couldn't mask problems with age and chemistry. Instead of becoming the oldest team ever to reach the postseason, the Orioles became an example of a veteran club riddled by free agency and injuries.

Among the first to leave the clubhouse was second baseman Roberto Alomar, who likely ended his three-year stay in Baltimore with an 0-for-4, two assists and little interaction with teammates. In recent days he had confided to friends that he intends to land in either Cleveland or Atlanta. Rafael Palmeiro insisted, "I'm through begging" for a new contract. B. J. Surhoff restated a desire to remain in Baltimore but said, "If nothing's done by the end of the World Series, I'm going to explore all my options."

For others, the walk to the bus was more final. Doug Drabek has intimated to teammates that he will likely retire. Jimmy Key may do likewise after enduring the second half with an inflamed rotator cuff.

"We just buried ourselves in the first half," said Surhoff. "It wasn't just injuries. It was not playing well."

"I think we're all responsible but I don't think it's a matter of blame," said center fielder Brady Anderson. "Whenever a team loses, there's a rush to assess blame. What I saw was a lack of performance, not a lack of effort. I never saw anybody in here stop trying. It was just disappointing for everyone concerned."

Mussina wouldn't concede relief at yesterday's ending. Nor will he try to flee from its hangover.

"You don't try to forget it. It's tough to forget it. If anything, you try to learn from it," Mussina said.

The decrepit Orioles learned the perils of age and an ill-fitting bullpen. Besides a 10-2 start to the season and a 30-7 rush to begin the second half, the Orioles were 39-74.

"At the break we were 12 games under. Then we pushed to 10 games over within a span of five or six weeks. That's some powerful baseball. It just took a lot out of us," Mussina said. "At the end we had nothing left."

Pub Date: 9/28/98

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