Three straight wins enough to put wild thoughts in head

May 06, 1999|By KEN ROSENTHAL

The wild-card standings, please:

Chicago, 13-12.

Orioles, 9-17.

Four-and-a-half games! The deficit is 4 1/2 games!

Where's Ray Miller's contract extension? Where's Albert Belle's "Good Guy" Award? Where's Juan Guzman's Cy Young bonus?

Hey, you wait all season to write something positive, everything comes gushing out at once.

The Titanic floats. Dinosaurs roam the Earth. And the Orioles have won three in a row.

Manager for life? At this rate, Miller will be manager for eternity. And general manager Frank Wren might get to complete his first season as his reward.

At least now we know why the Orioles tanked the Cuba game. They were preserving their energy for their wild-card showdown with the hated White Sox.

A few days ago, they couldn't count to two, as in two straight wins. But with last night's 8-0 pasting of Chicago, they've graduated to three, and are flirting with four.

Three in a row, four of the last five, five of the last eight. Two straight series triumphs! The chance for a sweep today!

"When you're struggling like we are, three in a row is a big step," center fielder Brady Anderson said.

Don't look now, but New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is about to order manager Joe Torre back to work.

The Toronto Blue Jays, meanwhile, are in such a panic, they traded Robert Person to Philadelphia yesterday for Paul Spoljaric.

So we exaggerate -- the air is a little thin up here at 9-17. But let's see if those Cuban all-stars want to return to Baltimore now.

Anderson hit a bases-loaded triple and his fourth homer last night. Belle delivered a two-run single. And Guzman, one of the season's biggest mysteries, returned to spring-training form.

The temperatures were so comfortable, maybe Guzman thought he was back in Florida. Whatever, he earned his first victory, working seven shutout innings to lower his ERA from 8.10 to 6.23.

Eureka!

For the first time this season, the Orioles have more wins without Mike Mussina (five) than with him (four).

What's next, Belle's catching David Bell in homers?

Bell leads, 9-5, but Belle's career .315 average in May is his highest of any month. And please, no jokes about the extra "e" at the end of his name.

Seriously, this is what an $84 million team is supposed to do. Kick butt once in a while. Beat up on bad teams. Throw its wallet around.

The White Sox aren't that bad, actually. They entered the series with a 3.83 ERA, lowest in the AL by more than half a run. But the Orioles have scored 17 runs in the first two games, with Sidney Ponson facing James Baldwin today.

The question is, are the Orioles indeed capable of turning around their season? The odds still aren't good -- they're 1-8 on the road, and begin a 10-game trip to Detroit, Cleveland and Texas tomorrow.

The Tigers are improved. The Indians own the league's best record. The Rangers lead the AL West. The Orioles' pitching might again disintegrate. But for now, at least their rotation is presentable again.

The starters' ERA the past five games is 2.43; before that, it was 7.60. Miller's decision to have Guzman switch places with Scott Erickson worked wonders. Guzman benefited greatly from the extra bullpen workout between starts.

Now, Ponson gets his chance to build on his first victory, with Mussina starting the first game of the road trip tomorrow and Scott Kamieniecki rejoining the rotation Saturday.

"It's all based on pitching," Miller said. "Pitching keeps you in ballgames, and then things can happen. Hopefully, we're starting to see that."

If they are, then the wild card still will be a fantasy, but not as outrageous as before.

The Orioles' problem will be getting back to .500. Even if their rotation settles down, their bullpen can't be trusted. But if they could somehow approach that universal standard of mediocrity, they'd be back in contention.

Look at the American League standings. The Yankees and Indians lead their divisions with winning percentages above .650. But 10 of the other 12 teams are within three games of .500, the two exceptions being the Orioles and Minnesota.

Can the Orioles pass most of them? Perhaps.

Are they better than all of them? Uh, well, ah we plead the Fifth Amendment.

The fever is building. The tension is rising. Any moment now, it will be time to increase the payroll, time to trade more prospects.

When do playoff tickets go on sale? What will the Orioles wear to the White House? Where does the World Series parade start?

Laugh if you must.

We're going to ride this as long as possible. The next losing streak might sneak up on us faster than you can say, "Job security for all."

Pub Date: 5/06/99

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