O's hope win has big payoff in playoffs

July 13, 2005|By Peter Schmuck

DETROIT - In the excitement of watching Miguel Tejada make another big statement in front of a national television audience and Brian Roberts make an impressive All-Star debut, you probably overlooked a very important element of the 76th midsummer classic.

The Orioles won home-field advantage for the World Series.

Now, you can mark your calendars and set aside those two weekends in late October when Oriole Park hosts baseball's version of the Big Dance. There are a few other things that have to go right between now and then, of course, but the Orioles can head into the second half knowing that if they get healthy and win at least a wild-card berth, they'll be sitting pretty in the fall.

"We're pretty close right now," said Tejada. "I just hope we can play the way we did in the first half. With what happened tonight, I think it shows us that anything can happen. We've got a chance."

Yeah, yeah, we're getting way ahead of ourselves, but it was hard not to get all puffed up after Tejada launched that 436-foot home run in the second inning. He added an RBI groundout and a big defensive play to win Most Valuable Player honors, and Roberts doubled in two at-bats as the American League continued its recent dominance of the All-Star Game by improving to 8-0-1 over the past nine games.

"I don't know if I believe in karma, that Miggy winning the MVP means we're going to the Series," Roberts said. "We're going to have to play very well ... [but] I think we have as good a shot as anybody else at this point."

Want a little more local flavor? The American League fielded an all-Baltimore infield in the fifth inning, with Melvin Mora at third base, Tejada at short, Roberts at second and former Mount St. Joseph star Mark Teixeira at first. Teixeira would also hit a long home run as the AL built a 7-0 lead.

Maybe they should switch this thing to a North America-against-the-rest-of-the-world format, because the National League isn't even putting up a fight anymore. The seemingly cozy final score may indicate otherwise, but by the fifth inning, National League manager Tony La Russa could ponder the potential injustice of having to climb uphill again if his St. Louis Cardinals reach the World Series for the second year in a row.

They were overmatched last year. The Red Sox pulled off the greatest playoff comeback in baseball history to defeat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, then made great use of home-field advantage - awarded to them even though they were a lowly wild-card team - to win the world title in a walk.

It could happen again, except this year's wild-card team could well be the Orioles, who remain right in the thick of the AL East and wild-card races in spite of the lengthy slump that threatened to wipe away everything they accomplished in an uplifting first half.

La Russa bemoaned the three-year-old format that gives the league that wins the All-Star Game an instant edge in the World Series, but baseball commissioner Bud Selig defended the change in long-standing baseball tradition during an afternoon news conference yesterday.

"It's not like the old system was based on Einstein's theory of relativity," Selig said.

He has used that line before, but I'm relating it again because he's absolutely right. The old system simply alternated home-field advantage from year to year, which still allowed for the inequity of a wild-card team getting it over a division winner with the best record in baseball (as the Cardinals were last year).

The change was made after the 2002 All-Star Game ended in an embarrassing tie. Selig was determined to add an extra competitive element to the game to assure that the managers played it to win.

It would probably be more fair to give home-field advantage to the team with the best regular-season record, but the logistical requirements of properly staging an event the magnitude of the World Series make that less than practical.

Of course, if Major League Baseball really was worried about fairness, it might do something about the clear lack of parity between the two leagues. The American League has won five of the past seven World Series and every All-Star Game since 1997 (except for the 2002 tie).

Maybe it all evens out over the long haul, but that has got to be small consolation for the dominant teams in the NL, who again will enter the postseason at a decided disadvantage.

The Orioles, meanwhile, can start planning on those two big weekends at the end of October. Things are starting to fall into place.

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

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