Orioles, Yankees more than field apart

O's, Yanks find themselves at opposite ends of field

September 27, 2005|By RICK MAESE

Starting on dirt, past the on-deck circle, through the grass, past the other ondeck 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 Yankees can smell October. The Orioles have numbed our senses. The Yankees are beginning the most exciting week of the season, the playoffs just inches away. For the Orioles, though, the season couldn't end soon enough.

They're on the same field this week, but only because the schedule mandates it.

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 zero job security. The Orioles still have two general managers, a failed experiment that may or may not be abandoned in the coming weeks.

The Yankees annually improve their ballclub, makingmoves and forking over money that they know will pay dividends come fall. The Orioles make highrisk decisions, many involving aging ballplayers, and many that look foolish midway through summer.

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 says. "I was looking at a team that had won the World Series three years in a row and another team that's struggled for a 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 Yankees' have a payroll of $206 million. The Orioles operate with a payroll of about one-third of that. But it's naive to think that's the sole difference between the two ball clubs.

"[Outside of New York,] they always relate to the money," said Yanks manager Joe Torre. "In New York, I think the people appreciate what we are about and what we've come from."

He's talking about the Yankees' approach. The roster is an ongoing construction project. The Yankees have added 10 players since Aug. 1. They've traded for veterans like Mark Bellhorn and Matt Lawton, trying to bulk up for the homestretch.

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

The two dugouts seem like two different leagues right now.

The Yankees have weathered controversies and silenced critics by winning baseball games. The Orioles have been swallowed whole by their off-field problems, posting one of baseball's worst records since July 1.

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

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

"You always think about what the Yankees should be," Torre said. "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 - manager, first base, closer, right field, etc. - over the offseason? What does Perlozzo think when he looks across the field into that other dugout? His bosses haven't talked to him about the future, while the Yankees are continually preparing for theirs.

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 seemingly 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 Devil Rays. The winner will pack their bags and try to forget about 2004. Sowill the loser.

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

Just 37 steps. 10 seconds. 100 feet. It's the same field and the same game, but in that other dugout, it feels like another world.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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