Knocked down repeatedly, Orioles still fighting back

Orioles In Crisis

August 04, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Late Orioles game: Last night's game between the Orioles and Angels in Anaheim, Calif., ended too late to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions or on the Internet at

ANAHEIM, Calif. - The fall has been swift and painful, no soft landings for a team that's dropped from first place to fourth in its division. The Orioles soon could be playing for pride rather than a pennant. It's a familiar incentive for an organization that hasn't made the postseason in eight years.

If that's all the Orioles have left, saving face instead of a season, they seem united in their desire to keep fighting. Nobody has quit, they insist, and suggestions to the contrary are met with fierce resistance.

"I don't know why people say stuff like that," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "Who in their right mind is going to go out there and quit? You have guys whose careers are on the line. Who's going to quit?"

Fifteen losses in 17 games before last night have a way of draining the energy from any club, but the Orioles kept battling last night against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.

"I think everybody's playing hard," reliever Steve Kline said. "We've just been struggling. It feels like we lost two wheels and we're still driving."

At least they're moving. This normally would be the time to pull off the road and wait for assistance.

With only one trade consummated at the non-waiver deadline, the Orioles are on their own. Many players are disappointment that the front office wasn't more active with the team in first place for 62 straight days.

"We knew we weren't that good," one veteran said, "just like we're not as bad as we look right now."

How bad are the Orioles? They went 1-7 on their last homestand, were outscored 52-31 and left 77 runners on base. Their starting pitchers registered a 7.31 ERA in 32 innings. The bullpen blew three saves and once mishandled a five-run lead.

They were 4-15 since the All-Star break heading into last night, and the warm feelings that came from being 14 games above .500 have turned to frost.

Seeking changes that could ignite another run, manager Lee Mazzilli used Javy Lopez in the cleanup spot last night for only the second time this season. Melvin Mora dropped to fifth for the only time after a recent 0-for-17 slump.

"I'm trying to find a little mix here," Mazzilli said. "I spoke to Melvin earlier about that and he said the same thing. Sometimes you just need to shake it up."

The next shakeup could involve Mazzilli, whose contract expires after the season. Players say they aren't distracted by his uncertain status, and it doesn't motivate them.

They're not playing to save his job or to push him out the door. "Nobody here is concerned about the manager's contract. I've never heard anybody talk about that," B.J. Surhoff said. "Here's the simple fact: We have to play better. It's no more complicated than that."

Support for Mazzilli isn't universal. Players have complained about the way he uses the bullpen. Some don't view him as a strong communicator. But they will continue playing hard for him.

"You walk into any office. Does everybody like their boss? No. But if you don't like your boss, do you quit doing your job?" said Roberts, who became a regular under Mazzilli and made his first All-Star team.

"No player is going to go out there in front of 50,000 people and make a fool out of himself because he doesn't like the manager."

Said one veteran: "These guys play for themselves, not for him."

"You see guys busting their butts and getting no results," he added, "and they become disillusioned."

Asked if he's getting the same effort as earlier this season, Mazzilli said, "Oh yeah. They know they're in a little bind right now and they're going to play through that. I don't see any difference from how it was two weeks ago."

Nobody's quitting on him? "No, not at all. Not for one minute would I think that," he said.

Bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks senses that players have become fatigued, but rest is difficult to find as games become more important.

"Some guys are busting their tails, and some are not. They're just tired," he said. "Remember that a lot of these guys were never regulars until this season. They've given us everything they had and did a tremendous job. But we have a tired team.

"We're also not scoring runs, and that puts pressure on everybody. It's a natural instinct when the game's on the line, to try to hit a three-run homer with nobody on base."

At least they're still trying. For the Orioles, that's one of the few encouraging signs left in a season that's pointed them in the wrong direction.

"It's always been the same clubhouse, very sluggish before games. There's not a lot of energy in here," said another veteran. "But we have guys who go out on that field and still play hard."

Orioles today

Opponent: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Site, time: Angel Stadium of Anaheim (Calif.), 4:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: No TV/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Rodrigo Lopez (9-6, 4.85) vs. Angels' Ervin Santana (6-4, 5.19)

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