As exhibition season finishes, O's Tejada finds regular form

April 02, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

In the late innings of Friday night's exhibition game at RFK Stadium, Miguel Tejada gave way to a pinch runner and passed manager Sam Perlozzo on the way back into the dugout.

"Feel better now?" Tejada asked.

If he only knew.

The Orioles have been fretting about their superstar shortstop since his disenchantment with the front office became a major offseason issue four months ago, and that concern clearly intensified as Tejada struggled through the final weeks of spring training.

His poor performance at the plate and uncharacteristic behavior had club officials searching for answers and pondering the same contingencies that they considered when Tejada began talking about a change of scenery.

Which brings us back to Friday night and the strange chain of events that -- at least temporarily -- has put the team back at ease.

Tejada and teammate Javy Lopez had shown up very late at RFK Stadium. Perlozzo clearly wasn't happy, since Tejada's punctuality had become an issue in Florida, but the two veteran players avoided disciplinary action by calling the manager to warn him that they were having trouble finding their way to the ballpark.

Still, some residual angst obviously remained because Tejada sought out Perlozzo after batting practice and engaged him in an animated conversation.

Even watching the whole scenario unfold from afar, it was hard not to get the impression that something was very wrong. Tejada had slipped into a serious funk during the final two months of last season, then sent the Orioles organization into offseason disarray with his disturbing comments to an Associated Press reporter in the Dominican Republic.

How could anyone not imagine the worst after he struggled through the World Baseball Classic and left Florida batting just .194 without a home run in exhibition play?

The "old" Miguel Tejada returned just in time, making several sparkling defensive plays and lining the ball all over RFK Stadium on Friday night. He came back yesterday and hit a two-run homer in his first at-bat and finished with two hits and three RBIs to raise his spring average to a more respectable .256.

Perlozzo, who is feeling a lot better now, thank you, speculated that the return to a major league venue may have had an impact on Tejada's mind-set. He and every other Orioles fan should be very relieved that when the lights came on, there was somebody home.

Melvin Mora's upbeat attitude after his meeting with Peter Angelos on Friday is a testament to the owner's ability to turn on the charm when the situation warrants, but the lack of any apparent movement by the club is symptomatic of another side of his personality that isn't quite as endearing.

When Angelos decides his position is righteous, his stubbornness is legendary ... and it also is a major reason why the Orioles have not been able to dig themselves out of an eight-year organizational slump.

If you think I've been surprisingly muted on the Anna Benson front, it's because the breakup of a marriage is a very sad thing, especially when there are children involved. If only Ms. Benson was so circumspect, but her PR firm actually put out a news release Thursday announcing that she had filed for divorce.

She's making a career out of being tacky, so why would she treat this situation any differently?

Kris Benson, on the other hand, discretely handled several difficult questions about the situation Friday night.

The decision to keep young Nick Markakis was the right one, though it leaves the Orioles with a crowded outfield and a six-man bullpen. It's probably fair to speculate that there will be some re-balancing by the middle of the month.

Perlozzo said last night that it would be his responsibility to get enough playing time for all of his outfielders, but that will be no small trick. Look for the Orioles to buy some time until the situation resolves itself -- either because of an injury or because another team comes looking for outfield help.

Congratulations one more time to George Mason University, which finally bowed out of the NCAA tournament after an astonishing run that vindicated the presence of a surprising number of representatives from mid-major conferences.

It was great to see loosy-goosy coach Jim Larranaga prove that you can reach great heights without taking yourself too seriously. It was obvious that his kids had a great time ... and so did we.

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