O's seek reversal like that of the A's

They look across field and see playoffs in reach

August 16, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, CALIF. — Late Orioles game: Last night's game between the Orioles and Athletics in Oakland, Calif., ended too late to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions or on the Internet at www. baltimoresun.com.

OAKLAND, Calif. - The Orioles still talk about making the playoffs as if it's a distinct possibility, no matter that the standings tell a different story. The Orioles entered last night 12 games back in the American League East and 10 games out in the wild-card picture.

But as several of the Orioles point out, bigger turnarounds have happened, and to prove their point, they stared across the diamond at McAfee Coliseum and stated the case of their opponent for three days this week, the Oakland Athletics.

On May 29, the A's had just dropped their eighth straight game and fell to 17-32. At that time, the Orioles were enjoying a stretch of 62 games in first place, unaware of how the fates of the two ballclubs would change in such a short span.

When Oakland took the field last night behind ace left-hander Barry Zito, it was only a game behind the Los Angeles Angels in the American League West and two games up on the New York Yankees in the wild-card race. They were 67-50, a 32-game turnaround from May 29.

"Yeah, there's the A's and Philly was going to be sellers at the trade deadline and now they are a half game out [of the wild card] at this point," said the Orioles' Jay Gibbons. "You just never know in this game. We're not going to give up. Obviously, we're realistic about the position we're in, but we can throw 10 together and we're right back in it. "

According to Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, it needs to happen now.

"You look at the A's and you see that [a turnaround can happen], but we have to pick it up really quick," he said. "Yeah, there's time, but there's also a sense of urgency. We know that. We don't have time to waste anymore."

Over their final 45 games, which starts with three games in Oakland and then three more on the road against wild-card hopeful Cleveland, the Orioles will play only three teams for a total of nine games who are not in the playoff picture.

Meanwhile, they face the Angels three times, the A's four more games after this series, and division foes Boston and New York a combined 13 more times.

"I think we all realize how tough it will be," said utility man Chris Gomez. "I think just getting to .500 should be goal No. 1, I guess. We're under .500 right now, so talking about playoffs is a little premature. Once you get above .500, I guess you can start looking at that."

It's an interesting scenario for the Orioles, one they insist that they are happy about. While there are very few opportunities to beat up on downtrodden teams, there are plenty of chances to beat teams ahead of them in the standings.

"We need a little help obviously and we need to get hot, but we're not out of it yet," Gibbons said. "We play Boston and New York a lot. The only way to make up ground is to beat the teams ahead of us. It's not a bad thing. If we lose, we lose. This gives us an opportunity."

As Roberts put it, at the very least, the Orioles control their own destiny.

"If you are playing all the teams that aren't in it, then you have to wait for other teams to beat up on the teams that are ahead of you," reasoned Roberts. "That's the good thing. Any time you beat someone ahead of you, you pick up a game in a hurry. Even though there's not that many games left, with that in our corner, it helps a little bit."

In other words, there is still some hope, even though it fades seemingly with every loss. The A's know the feeling.

When they were 15 games back in late May, the A's were given little chance by anyone. Manager Ken Macha was supposed to be on the way out, the first skipper to be handed his pink slip this season.

General manager Billy Beane - he of Moneyball fame - was no longer such a genius. His decision to trade Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson, two of the team's three aces along with Zito, appeared to be a foolish one, as the A's stable of young arms didn't appear to be ready for a prime-time role.

Now, all that is a thing of the past. The Orioles are hoping for a similar turnaround, but they know it won't be easy. They also know, from studying Oakland, that it will all start with pitching.

"We do know that club has outstanding pitching over there," said Orioles interim manager Sam Perlozzo. "It's a pretty well-balanced ballclub. But you can't do what they do without having all that pitching. I think that's really their strongest asset.When you run out good pitching every day like they do, you are keeping yourself in the game. I think that's the only way you can run streaks out."

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