Fans' patience at loss as O's limp home again

September 14, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

Give the Orioles' brain trust credit. They never said the streak was going to end this season.

Well, except for Peter Angelos himself, who said some 50 weeks ago: "We are coming back strong next year. I know you have heard that tune before, but this time it will literally come true."

And if you can't trust the owner, whom can you trust? Wait, don't answer that.

Otherwise, the plan was for this all to break big in 2007. That's when the kids would grow up, the young veterans would be mature, the fruits of the rebuilding farm system would be harvested, the money from the regional sports network would be put to maximum use - and the long-awaited run at the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox would be made.

Next year. Not this year.

But we had to get through this year anyway. It still counted. No matter how promising 2007 was supposed to be, 2006 was still destined to be year No. 9 of consecutive losing seasons, year No. 9 of not only missing the playoffs, but also not even getting a sniff at them. Yes, things probably were going to be better than '05, at least less full of suspensions, Congressional testimony and accusations, but that likely wouldn't equate to a legitimate pennant race.

And we were all supposed to be OK with that. We were, and are, not supposed to fret about this, because it's going to pay off soon, just not right now.

For that, we were asked as politely as possible, please don't get too bent out of shape about another season of losing, another season of anguish, another season of envying other cities whose fans aren't mocked by a great legacy and a miserable present.

There wasn't any drama in the official clinching of the ninth straight losing season Tuesday night. There weren't many on hand at Camden Mausoleum to send the Orioles off into oblivion again. Even with the stirring comeback in the ninth inning that fell short, there wasn't anything that significant about loss No. 82. It was inevitable by the time the month began.

Even the most stirring, possibly encouraging sight of the night - that of Daniel Cabrera wearing glasses - has less of an impact, because Charlie Sheen had beaten him to it in Major League 17 years ago.

(No, by the way, we don't want to think about what might have been this year, last year, any year, had someone taken time away from tinkering with Cabrera's mechanics, psychoanalyzing him and bouncing him back and forth to the minors and had just held an eye chart in front of him.)

There's not much new to report here. There never really is. There's always something to hang a little bit of hope on before the season starts, there's always someone who slips easily, fair or not, into the scapegoat role when things go badly, and there's always a fresh supply of hope being peddled at the end.

You can't blame Sam Perlozzo, either for the wreckage of this season or for being as upbeat as a manager can be after his team's fate has been sealed. Some want to blame him, some feel they need to. Don't bother.

Once upon a time, getting rid of Lee Mazzilli was going to fix it. Same with Mike Hargrove, and Ray Miller, and ... who was the guy before that? Had some success, went to the playoffs a couple of times. But he was the problem, too. Getting rid of him was going to fix things, wasn't it?

Everything changes every year - and in the end, nothing changes.

Thus, the Orioles' faithful, especially the ones who go way, way back, get more and more angry. They stop showing up, they vent on the radio, they reach and grasp for ways to let their disenchantment be known. But that's even starting to take on a sameness out of repetition.

Getting mad doesn't work. Tuning out doesn't work. Making themselves not care doesn't work. Turning their kids off to the local, history-rich major league franchise doesn't work. Kids who were in first grade in 1997, that last winning season, the division title year, are now sophomores in high school, and they barely register the very concept of quality baseball around here.

Not even writing enraged, fire-breathing columns about how wretched the past decade has been works anymore.

But in all the above instances, what choice does anybody have?

It would be unfair to let the annual milestone go unmarked. To not take the opportunity of that inevitable 82nd loss, to not use it to make it known to all that this is unacceptable. That the Orioles cannot be allowed to ruin baseball in this city any longer, the way it was ruined so badly for the suburbs south of here that they jumped onto the Washington Nationals' bandwagon as if it were packed with rolls of $100 bills.

Give the Orioles credit. They never pretended that this would be the year the drought would end.

It didn't. They were right. They told the truth.

It still stinks.

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