Angelos won't stop trying to give Yanks, Red Sox run for their money

September 28, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

EVEN IF THE vagabond Montreal Expos end up in downtown Washington - which looks more and more likely every day - the Orioles aren't going anywhere.

They aren't going to the National League, and they aren't going to downshift when it finally appears they might be moving in the right direction in the American League East.

Owner Peter Angelos made that crystal clear yesterday, even as he conceded for the first time there might be a formula that allows the Expos to land in the District without turning the Orioles into a small-market team.

Lee Mazzilli speculated on Sunday that the team might benefit from switching to the National League.

Not going to happen.

Nervous fans and anxious talk-show callers are wondering if the growing prospect of a second team in the region will cause Angelos to shy away from the expensive free-agent pitchers who might turn the Orioles into a playoff team next year.

Not a chance.

There is one team that Angelos wants to upend even more than the theoretical Washington Expos, and he won't be able to do that in the other league.

"The Orioles have been an American League team for 50 years, and they will remain an American League team," Angelos said. "We've done very well against the Boston Red Sox this year, and the Yankees are next on the list."

Even if Major League Baseball overrides the Orioles' objections and projects the Expos into RFK Stadium next season without a suitable compensation package? "We're still going to make the next move," Angelos said. "We're getting closer and closer. We've had too many bad years. We owe it to the fans."

This has to be music to their ears. The Orioles signed Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez and Rafael Palmeiro last winter to beef up the offensive lineup. The front office held off on free-agent pitching because the market wasn't right and the organization needed to find out about several top prospects.

The next step is to bring in at least one front-line starting pitcher from outside the organization. Two would be better. The Orioles also need another catcher and one more big bat to complete the transformation from seven-year sub-.500 team to potential 2005 playoff contender.

"He has made a commitment to the organization and the city," said Mazzilli, "and he has lived up to that."

The Orioles would have to run the table to finish .500 this year, but there is no question this is a better, more exciting team than the one that limped to dismal finishes in 2002 and '03. If you doubt that, you might check with the Red Sox, who have beaten them just six times in 15 games and have to warm up for their wild-card playoff run with four games in Baltimore this weekend.

"If it wasn't for us, the Red Sox might be right up there with the Yankees," Angelos said.

That's why Angelos was scratching his head when he read Mazzilli's comments about the Orioles switching leagues. He may not like the fact that the Yankees have dominated the AL East for most of the time that he has owned the club, but he isn't about to abandon the fight.

"We want to be right where we are," Angelos said. "We want to compete against those two teams."

He hasn't given up on the possibility the deal to put the Expos in Washington might fall apart, which would make it that much easier to pump up next year's payroll. But he chafes at the notion that the threat of a second team in the region has diminished his desire to build a winner.

"Absolutely not, the plan is still in effect," Angelos said. "The next phase is this fall. Going into next season, we want to be right on the heels of the Yankees and the Red Sox ... or right in their faces."

Contact Peter Schmuck at peter.schmuck@baltsun.com.

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