After seven stormy years, rain was an unwelcome sight

April 29, 2005|By Laura Vecsey

THE WEATHER in Boston on Wednesday was rainy, but not for the Orioles. If it had taken Noah's ark to get the gritty little powerhouse onto the Fenway Park field - captain Miggy at the helm - the Orioles would have said, "Let's roll."

The Orioles not only had a chance to sweep the Boston Red Sox, just like the Orioles swept the New York Yankees, the Orioles seemed poised to bludgeon the defending world champs into submission.

That's why some of us Birdland residents are still poised in front of the television, waiting for that Wednesday afternoon game in Boston postponed by rain to start. We can't take no for an answer. After all, what's a little rain, except for Johnny Hair-do, who has that coif to consider?

Rain is not a suitable excuse, not when the Orioles were onto something ... which they still could be. We'll soon see. Twenty-one of the Orioles' next 28 games are at home, starting with a 12-game homestand that commences tonight.

Eighteen of these late April/May games are against clubs with records under .500. If what the juggernauting Orioles have already done so far isn't a sign that May could be a huge month for them ...

Don't be alarmed. A person can get this way, frozen and transfixed and eager to see what comes next, especially when a team clubs its way back from an 8-3 deficit to win, 11-8, like the Orioles did Tuesday night to stun Keith Foulke and Red Sox Nation.

Q. What's better than a team with a $200 million payroll or freshly minted World Series rings?

A. A team that believes in itself.

Maybe this season, Miguel Tejada won't have to call his agent and vent his frustration, like last year, when he said, in the midst of the Orioles' hideous 12-game losing streak: "I am not a loser! I am not a loser!"

No, Miggy, you are not. Neither, apparently, are the Orioles, who in 21 games have turned an organization that was the laughingstock/whipping boy of the big leagues into an eye-opening reality check for any American League East club that thinks the fight is between the Evil Empire and Idiot Nation.

At 14-7, the Orioles are on track to hit the target number of wins (92) assigned to them at the start of this season by a certain sports columnist who has had the good fortune of watching a few baseball teams exceed expectations. Talk about good times.

The Orioles' front office has often said that if the Florida Marlins could ride young pitchers (Josh Beckett & Co.) and a hot young third baseman/left fielder (Miguel Cabrera) and a fire-starter leadoff hitter (Juan Pierre), then why couldn't the Orioles come together and compete, too? Frankly, after observing this team the first month of the season, as well as the second half last year, the Orioles bear greater resemblance to other surprise playoff contenders, like the 1995 Seattle Mariners (whose motto was "Refuse to Lose") and the 2002 Anaheim Angels.

Those teams used the energy from management changes (Lou Piniella, Mike Scioscia) and solid bullpens (Norm Charlton, Jeff Nelson; Troy Percival, Frankie Rodriguez) and veteran-stoked lineups to shuck years of futility.

Sometimes, guys just get tired of losing.

"We have a good offense, a good bullpen and a young and healthy pitching staff being coached by the best pitching coach [Ray Miller] I ever had," Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan said yesterday.

"This is an emotional team. Sometimes, good teams get off to this kind of start and they start to believe. You can start to get a good read on a club. Once they start building that confidence, the opposition has to beware," Flanagan said.

That is the major difference between now and seven years of losing. The Orioles are not sunk if they're down late in a game.

This development and this kind of confidence is exactly what the Orioles did not have last year, when injuries to the starting rotation, lack of depth off the bench and a tentative first-year manager plunged the Orioles into the abyss.

Flanagan and Jim Beattie no doubt have their futures staked, to some degree, on the performance of Lee Mazzilli, but Flanagan is correct to assert that Mazzilli has already won at least one or two games so far this season.

Mazzilli used David Newhan and B.J. Surhoff in Saturday's 4-1 win at Toronto, where Surhoff's defense preserved a 1-0 Orioles' lead late in the game. Mazzilli also refused to concede defeat when Rodrigo Lopez was knocked out Tuesday night and the Orioles trailed by five runs.

"He brought in the front-line relievers and the bullpen kept that score right where it was. I think that's a subconscious message to the club that we're not out of this game. The guys pick up on that: `He doesn't think we're out of it,'" Flanagan said.

Which is why some of us spent the past 48 hours waiting for the rain to let up so the Orioles could attempt to finish the sweep in Boston. Like the Orioles, we refuse to take no for an answer, rain or no rain.

What's the sign that a baseball team has commenced a shock-and-awe campaign?

When simple curiosity by fans morphs into full-blown obsession and addiction.

If you felt cheated by the rain in Boston on Wednesday, robbed of the chance to see the Orioles try and sweep, then you, too, are in this sweet category.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site, time: Camden Yards, 7:35

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Devil Rays' Hideo Nomo (2-2, 6.41) vs. Orioles' Erik Bedard (1-1, 3.80)

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