For O's, troubled '05 season was ages ago

April 16, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

After pitching one of the most artistic games of the Orioles' season, Erik Bedard produced the most eloquent commentary on the new season.

"Last year is last year," Bedard said, "and this year is this year."

Bedard was referring specifically to his showing last season, pre-knee injury; his first three starts, including yesterday's 3-2 gem over the Los Angeles Angels at Camden Yards, practically beg for comparisons to that 5-1 start in 2005. However, it was a foregone conclusion as far back as the end of last season that any halfway-decent start by the Orioles would be compared to the now-notorious 62 straight games in first place last spring.

So forgive the Orioles if they strive to keep their current run of solid play in perspective, and their past disappointments out of mind.

Besides, they almost can't help but dissociate '06 from '05. Some of the faces are the same, but a lot are different. And the air around the team, on the field and in the clubhouse, is a lot fresher. More of the stench of last season has been fanned away than one might suspect.

Thus, waiting around for the punch in the kidneys might very well be futile. These aren't the same Orioles. You might want to hold off on embracing them right now, but you don't need to hold them at arm's length to prevent them from breaking your hearts again, either.

At 7-5, the Orioles are one game off last year's pace; coincidentally, they moved into first place in the American League East by themselves for the first time at this point a year ago. Now they're in second, a half game back of Boston, which slapped them around convincingly last weekend and sent this thought running through the minds of Orioles fans: Well, at least they won't tease us again this year.

Now that they've beaten a legit team, the Angels, two in a row, does this qualify as another tease?

Maybe, but only if you're still stuck in the mind-set of last year. Yet a glance around the clubhouse reminds us that the powder kegs of 2005 are gone. That's Corey Patterson dressing where Rafael Palmeiro used to. The Buddha statue still sits atop Sidney Ponson's old locker, but Ponson no longer sits under it.

B.J. Ryan might be absent from that far corner, but so is Steve Kline -- and we're just a few days past the anniversary of Kline's ripping of his new city, teammates and fans, which in hindsight was an omen.

What were the big concerns about the holdovers? Miguel Tejada's state of mind is going to be dissected all season, but while he isn't exactly playing like a Most Valuable Player, he isn't wilting away from the heat, either. He did have two more hits yesterday, and right after the Orioles' big fifth inning in which they took the lead for good, Tejada kept the lead in the sixth by turning a line-drive out by Juan Rivera into a double play with a strong throw to catch Vladimir Guerrero diving back to first.

As for Brian Roberts? Doesn't seem to be holding back. On Friday, he scored from second on a Melvin Mora single to briefly give the Orioles a lead in the eighth. Yesterday, with the score tied and two outs in the fifth, he bolted to third on his own on a pitch to Mora, and when Mora drove that pitch into left, Roberts had such a huge jump that he scored the go-ahead run easily.

By the way, that's the third straight game Mora's had a huge clutch hit. The contract thing doesn't seem to be taking much out of him.

And Chris Ray, yanked around so much last year there was a real fear that he'd crack before his true abilities could shine -- he polished off the Angels nicely, if not perfectly, in the ninth, and now has saved four of the seven wins.

The newcomers? Nick Markakis got another hit; that's eight times in his nine games that he's had one. Ramon Hernandez had his fifth three-hit game of the season; he's at a respectable .526. Between that and his handling of the reworked starting rotation, he's reminding everybody that the offseason wasn't quite the bust it had appeared to be back when he was the only player acquisition the team had made.

The aforementioned players -- including the starters, led by the so-far-impeccable Bedard -- are a curious blend of guys who weren't around to experience (or care about) the implosion of last year, and guys who would do anything to avoid it.

So the Orioles' 7-5 start is a unique development, distinct from the one haunting their fans. It's a good 7-5, not an "uh-oh" 7-5.

It might not turn into anything. But if the makeup of this group so far means anything, it won't turn into the mess it turned into last season. Just ask the undefeated Bedard.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Points after -- David Steele

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