With no cavalry on way to save O's, fans can retreat

August 01, 2005|By David Steele

PAT RILEY used to tell his players every season, on the day the trade deadline passed, that they could stop waiting for help to arrive and start playing basketball again. "The cavalry isn't coming over the hill to save us," he'd say.

Long before the first pitch at Camden Yards last night, Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan told the cavalry to stay home -- and, in effect, told the Orioles that they were now on their own. That's not a terrible position to be in, Beattie said yesterday afternoon, offering a few reasons that didn't sound completely implausible.

Problem was, none of them, from the executive vice president or anyone else, are as plausible as the one Riley used to give: We're good enough as-is to win the division/conference/NBA championship.

The best the Orioles can do? The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees aren't running away with it, and neither of them made a blockbuster deal, either. There weren't any to make. No addition (or subtraction) was deemed capable of tilting the American League East race one way or another. Too bad for the Orioles that the Red Sox regained their sanity and didn't give away Manny Ramirez; if the Orioles had to have their white horse ride through some other team's clubhouse, then so be it.

The Red Sox, though, aren't coming back to the pack. Good news, except that the Orioles, with their losing record, have to make a giant leap just to get to the pack: two teams to jump over in the division (to get to second), six to pass in the wild-card race. All of those teams felt fine standing pat, too.

So you can feel good about the Orioles today because ... uh ... um ...

Because they're all relieved that the deadline has passed? Yeah, sure, why not? "It might relax them a little bit," acknowledged manager Lee Mazzilli. After all, one player, the Aruban Knight, was already out the door last week before being called back, and a few players have been in a testy mood most of the season anyway, for various reasons. If they were uptight about yesterday's witching hour of 4 p.m., they don't have that excuse now.

"We've had some struggles the last month that were uncharacteristic of this club," Beattie said. "It's our hope, whether it's the trade rumors or whatever it was, if we can just get by those and start playing the way we were playing earlier on and do some of the things that are the strength of this ballclub, we're going to win some ballgames."

Well, if the general manager is not seeing a silver lining, there's not much chance anyone else will, either.

As it turned out, neither the relief nor the inactivity by the rest of the contenders worked much in the Orioles' favor against the Chicago White Sox last night. They were still stuck with a worn-out bullpen, and the best that can be said about Rodrigo Lopez's start was that both first-inning run-scoring line drives through the box evaded his pitching hand.

That wasn't enough to keep the faithful -- the few making themselves known amid the surprisingly loud White Sox fans -- from booing the latter stages of a five-run, 10-batter, 44-pitch inning, or booing Lopez's exit after retiring just one batter in the second. But it could have been worse.

In fact, that was the extent of the good news on deadline day: Sidney Ponson and Daniel Cabrera were none the worse for their own batted-ball disasters, and both are expected to make their next starts in the rotation. "We dodged a bullet," trainer Richie Bancells said before the game.

On the other hand (pun fully intended), Luis Matos was a late scratch in center field with a sore right thumb, not to be confused with the broken finger on the same hand that put him out for a month. Or with the busted digits on Javy Lopez, Eli Marrero and Geronimo Gil at various times this season. Forget swinging a deal for a player; the Orioles needed to add depth at hand specialist.

The fact that they're entering the final two months of the season with most of their players able to grip a ball without pain won't exactly convince the beaten-down fan base to hang in there. Neither will the fact that the distance between the Orioles and the elite of the American League was on full, frightening display last night, to the locals and to the entire nation, at least the segment that didn't click on Desperate Housewives in disgust by the second inning.

Which raises the question: If the cavalry isn't coming to save the Orioles, is there one coming to rescue the fans?

Please. You know the answer to that, because it's been the same answer for seven years. The answer wears purple, reported to Westminster yesterday afternoon and begins two-a-days this morning.

Meanwhile, in case you were wondering, just 199 days until pitchers and catchers report.

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