Orioles, Yankees more than field apart

September 27, 2005|By RICK MAESE

Starting on dirt, past the ondeck circle, through the grass, past the other on-deck circle, and then dirt again. From one dugout to the other.

It took about 10 seconds to make the walk yesterday. Groundskeepers were preparing for rain and the field was empty, so I walked it a second time. Just 37 steps. And then to be sure, I walked it again. Only about 100 feet.

From the Orioles' dugout, I looked back across the field. It seemed pretty close, but we all know better: Two baseball teams have never been so far apart.

The New York Yankees can smell October. And the Baltimore Orioles have numbed our senses. The Yankees are beginning the most exciting week of the year, the playoffs just inches away. For the Orioles, though, the season can't end soon enough.

They're on the same field this week, but only because the schedule mandates it. The Yankees have won 13 of their past 15 games, including last night's 11-3 blowout at Camden Yards. The Orioles have dropped nine straight, the worst losing skid of the season. In 52 seasons of existence, the franchise has rarely been this lost. Different teams, different dugouts.

Mike Mussina has watched the Orioles' nose-dive. The former Baltimore hurler took the 100-foot march to the other dugout five years ago and pitches tonight in Yankee pinstripes.

"When you're a free agent, you look at your options," he said prior to last night's game. "I was looking at a team that had won the World Series three years in a row and another team that's struggled for quite a few years. ... We're all here to win. What are you supposed to do?"

Mussina is with a team now that has invested in its starting rotation. His old team has continually squandered chances to shore up its starting five.

The distance between the two franchises is much more than 100 feet. The Yankees' roster costs $206 million. The Orioles operate with a payroll of about one-third of that. It's naive to think that's the sole difference between the two ballclubs, though.

From top to bottom, there's a difference in commitment. Last night, you just wanted to charge into the Orioles' dugout and start checking pulses. Of course, you probably wouldn't have gotten that far - not with all the Yankees' fans clogging the aisles.

Those fans have reason to be excited. The playoffs are near and their team is loaded with talent that would look good on any rotisserie team. This late in the season, half the Orioles' roster belongs on a rotisserie grill.

The Yankees approach each season like an ongoing construction project. They've added 10 players since Aug. 1. They've acquired veterans like Mark Bellhorn and Matt Lawton, trying to bulk up for the homestretch.

The Orioles did little to improve their roster midseason this year, squandering their shot at pitcher A.J. Burnett and giving fans little reason to hope for a second-half resuscitation.

Burnett didn't come because he couldn't commit to sticking around. Just like Mussina couldn't stick around. Just like B.J. Ryan can't stick around. When the goal is to win, you want to be with a team that's headed in that direction. You want to tear off your jersey and sprint 37 steps across the field into the right dugout.

The Yankees have had the same manager for the past 10 seasons and a general manager who has been with the team since 1998. The Orioles canned their manager last month and the interim guy, Sam Perlozzo, has little job security. The Orioles still have two general managers, a failed experiment that needs to be addressed immediately following game No. 162.

There's so much about the Yankees that's worth loathing. Perhaps the biggest is the frustration they inspire.

The Yankees expect to win. Their fans expect to win. Everyone in the organization - the peanut vendor, the shortstop, the owner - expects to win.

"You always think about what the Yankees should be," said Yanks manager Joe Torre. "You never stop carrying that with you."

I don't even know what it means to be an Oriole right now. Does the team expect to win next year? Is it rebuilding? Can they plug all the holes over the offseason?

I wonder what Perlozzo thinks when he looks across the field into that other dugout. His bosses haven't talked to him about the future. The shelves in his office are still lined with greeting cards congratulating him on his promotion to interim manager. He's asked every day about the future.

The future? He couldn't tell you what life will be like come Monday.

In case you don't have a calendar nearby, the future for the Orioles begins next week. This nightmare ends on Sunday.

It's a script etched by a poet. The Yankees will close the season against the Red Sox. The winner of that series will likely play in the postseason.

The Orioles conclude their '05 campaign against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The winner there will pack their bags and try to forget about 2005. So will the loser.

One last jaunt across the field. From one dugout to the other. Rain had begun to fall.

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