WHY ARE THESE men smiling? Don't they know they are under the microscope, that their jobs are on the line? How good can that feel, knowing your star is hooked to young players like Luis Matos, Brian Roberts and Sidney Ponson?
Don't they sweat a little each day, knowing that Orioles vice presidents Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan want to take a look, evaluate their work and wait to see results before talking about the future?
Manager Mike Hargrove has no contract after this season. Nor do bench coach Sam Perlozzo, hitting coach Terry Crowley, bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks, pitching coach Mark Wiley, third base coach Tom Trebelhorn and first base coach Rick Dempsey.
Didn't matter yesterday, when the Orioles won, again. They came back to beat the Texas Rangers, 5-4, capping a run in which they've won 10 of the past 14 games.
So what if those wins have come against the Angels, who don't resemble world champs? And so what if the Orioles might make it to the postseason before the pitcher-poor Rangers? Certainly the Orioles have made good use of the sub-.500 clubs that have come their way.
Beyond the wins -- which are surely far better than the alternative -- there have been a few other telltale signs that perhaps this young team is turning a corner. Better yet, there are signs for the coaching staff that some of their lessons are paying off.
Ponson won his seventh game yesterday, matching his win total for all of last season. In the fifth, Ponson pitched out of another bases-loaded jam, his second in the past week in which he made the right decisions and refused to let the inning blow up, despite the animal urge in him to explode.
In the seventh, Ponson gave up a two-run, go-ahead homer to Alex Rodriguez, but guess what? He did not throw his glove or smash the dugout bench. Between innings, he spoke with catcher Brook Fordyce. He asked questions. Asked what went wrong.
Down the bench, Hargrove and Wiley saw this. The manager and the coach understood that something of incremental significance was taking place: The hotheaded knight from Aruba was not self-destructing. He is learning that by controlling his emotions and frustrations, Ponson is allowing success to come to him.
And guess what?
The manager and the pitching coach let Ponson pitch the eighth. This was Ponson's game. Ponson's growth and the manager's patience in dealing with Ponson was paying off.
"Mike has the respect of every player in that clubhouse. He's honest with them, and they know that he's always in their corner," Crowley said.
Ponson acknowledged the changes.
"It feels good when your manager and pitching coach believe in you. Grover's the captain of this ship. He knows that even if I only have 90 percent, I'm going to give him everything," Ponson said.
Inside the clubhouse, Perlozzo joked that maybe the Orioles will be looking to add talent in the coming weeks instead of trading away Ponson.
"It could happen, especially when you consider that the Blue Jays are going to be in this thing and the Yankees and Red Sox are struggling," Perlozzo said. "It changes things, gives you a little more hope to know teams in this division are going to be beating up on each other."
That might be a stretch, considering the kind of slides the Orioles have produced, but at least the coaching staff got a sense that things might be sinking in. That helped make yesterday a day of affirmation for the manager, teachers and hard-working veterans who make the Orioles' coaching staff one of the deepest, most experienced in baseball.
Hargrove, who has been through this drill in Cleveland -- nursing youthful prospects through to contenders -- knows there are more than 100 games left in the season, but little signs say some good things are starting to happen.
"The first big hurdle here for guys to clear is that they belong here, so that their games can start to grow. There have been a lot of kids with a lot of talent who never get that far," Hargrove said.
The coaching staff had a right to be pleased as the team prepared for the trip to Houston and St. Louis, where things will get hotter -- in all ways. The Orioles have to hope a shuffled lineup for interleague play doesn't send them for a loop, especially against good clubs like the Astros and Cardinals.
"I think we have an atmosphere here where young players can develop and learn in a relaxed environment. They learn how to win, and that comes from Mike," Crowley said.
"There comes a time if an organization has picked the right players to label as prospects and these prospects can come up here and get into games and get this level of coaching, that three or four years into it, they're ready. I get that sense here."
Crowley is seeing hitters like Matos and Roberts making good on all that instruction, putting to good use all those tough experiences over the past three years.
Certainly, the past two weeks have gone a long way toward reversing some long, ugly stretches for a franchise attempting to rebuild. The turnaround since mid-May has been a long time coming. In fact, it was last Aug. 23 when the Orioles, feeling good at .500, last felt anything as remotely good as this.
After a 4-32 slump to end the threadbare 2002 season and that frightening skid this year in which the Orioles lost 10 of 12, no one can blame the Orioles' coaching staff for finally getting a chance to enjoy the fruits of its hard labor.
There's plenty of baseball left, which could be good or bad, but in the meantime, the coaches have gotten satisfaction knowing some of it's sinking in.