Expos occupy minds long way from Montreal

ON BASEBALL

September 22, 2002|By PETER SCHMUCK

The countdown is on. The Montreal Expos have six remaining home games at Olympic Stadium this year, but what happens after that remains anybody's guess.

Will Major League Baseball, already tired of subsidizing a financially strapped team, act quickly to sell the club and move it to a more promising location? Or will the Expos spend one more year in Montreal -- and limbo -- while baseball's ownership takes a more deliberate approach to the future of the orphan franchise.

It's a hot topic in the Washington/Northern Virginia area, which commissioner Bud Selig identified earlier this year as the "prime candidate" for relocation.

It's also a matter of great concern in Baltimore, where Orioles owner Peter Angelos remains steadfastly opposed to the arrival of a second team in the region.

Angelos has made a compelling case over the past few years against diluting this market, but the continuing decline of the Orioles franchise could seriously undermine his opposition to the presence of the Expos in the nation's capital.

He's got to show local fans that the Orioles are close to a turnaround, something that is going to be a very tough sell without some dynamic action to change the direction of the franchise.

The Orioles need an infusion of star-quality talent this winter and fresh new leadership to oversee the return of the franchise to respectability and then prominence. It's not a matter of fine tuning. It's a matter of making big, difficult decisions that will get quick and significant results. They are the kind of decisions only Angelos can make.

The Expos are waiting for permission to land in Washington. The Orioles can't afford to let that happen.

Twin vindication

The Minnesota Twins celebrated wildly last weekend after clinching the American League Central title at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, and why not? This team wasn't even supposed to be in existence in 2002.

"Bud Selig wanted to get rid of us, and he couldn't do it!" shouted Twins leadoff man Jacque Jones after the clincher last Sunday. "And the White Sox couldn't get rid of us! And Cleveland couldn't get rid of us! Now we're here! And we're not done! We're going to try to finish this thing off and win the World Series, and you can talk to me then!"

Hate to root against them, but do you really want to hear the Twins talk trash about last year's abortive contraction plan for the next six weeks?

Setting the tone

Jones has led off 11 games with home runs this year, just one shy of the major-league record set by Orioles center fielder Brady Anderson during his 50-homer performance in 1996.

Getting along

Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent have had a stormy relationship during their six years together at the heart of the San Francisco Giants' lineup, but they appear to have formed a grudging alliance.

Bonds made headlines recently when he let it be known that he would be very unhappy if the club allowed Kent to become a free agent and leave the team this winter. He went even further, insisting that he actually likes Kent, who scuffled with him in the dugout earlier this season.

Kent did not seem surprised.

"You guys [in the media] make such a big deal about our relationship," he said. "It so funny. It's so phony, the articles and comments you guys write. There are differences between Barry and I. There's no doubt about that. But Barry and I co-exist on a professional level that makes us better ballplayers and this team a better ballclub.

"Other than that, there's nothing to write about. What Barry and I do is sit back and laugh at the comments of the articles you guys write, the rhetoric and color you guys pin on it. That's entertaining for your fans.

"It's kind of disrespectful to both Barry and I. I guess that's the power of the pen."

Planning ahead

The Anaheim Angels have gotten a lot of mileage out of their one-game-at-a-time philosophy, but manager Mike Scioscia is quite capable of looking down the road.

He moved top starter Jarrod Washburn up to pitch on three days' rest in Tuesday night's game against the Oakland A's, a move that was geared as much toward the future as the present.

Washburn, who answered the challenge with eight shutout innings in a 1-0 victory, now is set up to pitch Game 1 of the AL Division Series against the Twins or New York Yankees.

No suspense? The four-game series between the Angels and A's was not a make-or-break affair, since both teams are all but certain to make the playoffs, but Thursday's finale could end up having great significance during the postseason.

The A's scored a 5-3 victory to win the season series, giving them the tiebreaker if both teams finish the regular season with the same record.

How important was that? It could turn out to be the difference between opening the postseason against the playoff-hardened Yankees in New York or holding home-field advantage against the just-happy-to-be-there Twins.

The A's are understandably wary of playing the Yankees in the first round.

Flash from O's past

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