With Sox on rise, you can bank on Orioles' demise, or can you?

July 07, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

THE AL EAST champion Boston Red Sox arrive in town today to open a four-game series at Camden Yards, and I have only one question:

Why bother?

The race is over. You probably noticed that I didn't call them the defending World Series champion Red Sox, because that would be looking backward. This is about 2005 and the current division race, which is over.

The Red Sox are too good. I read that in the Boston Globe a week or so ago. Columnist Dan Shaughnessy anointed them as soon as they jumped over the Orioles in the standings.

It's OK to say it. Don't worry about jinxing them. The 2005 Red Sox are going to win the American League East. By a landslide. Come late September, this is going to look like Secretariat at the Belmont in 1973.

The motion was seconded by first baseman Kevin Millar, who remains the spiritual leader of the "bunch of idiots" who staged the greatest playoff comeback in baseball history on their way to the World Series title last year.

We're going to the Series, boys!

That's too bad, because it was shaping up as a pretty exciting summer. The perennial AL East champion Yankees have hobbled through the first half looking very vulnerable, but are almost at the doorstep after schooling the Orioles at Yankee Stadium this week. The Toronto Blue Jays aren't out of range, either.

Of course, the Orioles look like death warmed over right now, but in spite of a horrible two-week slump that has called into question the true quality of their pitching staff, they'll enter the weekend with a chance to tighten things considerably at the top of the standings. A four-game sweep (hey, it's not polite to laugh) would give them a tie for first place, and then maybe we could all gather outside the ballpark and sing "Kumbaya" in the William Donald Schaefer circle.

Except that it's over. Curt Schilling is on his way back and Manny Ramirez is sizzling and the Red Sox are so good that the Orioles are dreaming if they think they can win this series - a series in which, as everyone who has ever listened to the crowd at a Red Sox game in Baltimore knows, the Sox may have the home-field advantage.

The Orioles are reeling so badly the series almost qualifies as a reverse lock, a sports upset phenomenon identified by longtime Evening Sun baseball writer Jim Henneman, who hypothesized that there are times when a team can be so overmatched that it has to win.

Except that it's over. The Red Sox won the offseason pitcher sweepstakes with the acquisition of Matt Clement, who has been all but unbeatable and has filled the breach left by the departures of Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe.

The Orioles thought they had hit the pitching lottery with the emergence of Erik Bedard and the surprising performance of Bruce Chen, but Bedard has been out for weeks and Chen is pitching on a sore foot and the starting rotation is beginning to look like the pinata from George Steinbrenner's 75th birthday party.

The Yankees have crept up within a half game of second place, and the Orioles are closer to fourth place than to first. The wild-card race was supposed to be a fallback, but the Orioles have fallen back so fast that the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians have sped right past them.

There is the possibility of the Orioles getting healthy in a hurry. Javy Lopez is close to going on an injury rehabilitation assignment. Bedard could be back in the rotation after the All-Star break. Though Chen and Sidney Ponson are playing hurt, the Orioles could open the second half with the same starting lineup and rotation that carried them to the top of the division in April.

Except that it's over. The only hope now is Boston's jinxability. It took the Red Sox 86 years to shake the Curse of the Bambino from Babe Ruth's sale to the Yankees. Maybe they're ripe to start a new one.

Shaughnessy, the leading authority on "The Curse," proclaimed the season over on June 26, the day the Red Sox scored their 12th victory in 13 games to extend their newfound lead over the Orioles to 2 1/2 games.

Since then, they've been a decidedly average team. They lost five of their next seven games, which is the only reason the Orioles aren't looking way, way up at them right now.

So, is it over or isn't it? If the Orioles don't think so, this might be a good time to let the Red Sox know it.

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

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