Thanks to hindsight, manager's status cloudy

May 15, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK | PETER SCHMUCK,SUN REPORTER

It is the middle of May and, quite amazingly, one inning has created such a quantum shift in perspective that Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo's job security is suddenly a hot topic of conversation on all the fan Web sites and -- presumably -- in the club's front office.

Let me explain.

If Danys Baez and Chris Ray had been able to get a measly two outs in the ninth inning of Sunday's game before the Boston Red Sox scored six runs to complete a miracle comeback, the Orioles would have evened their record at 19-19 and won their first road series of the year in both Boston and New York.

Considering all that has happened -- most notably the loss of four starting pitchers to injury since early February -- I think most of us would look at a .500 record and such a solid performance against the Orioles' two chief rivals and be pretty satisfied. Frankly, you might even make the case for overachievement.

Instead, Perlozzo pulls young Jeremy Guthrie out of a three-hit shutout bid in the ninth, all hell breaks loose and suddenly it looks like his managerial career is hanging by a thread.

I don't know if that's fair, but I know that all you have to do is think about how you felt watching that ninth inning and then multiply your frustration by about 20 and you should have a pretty good idea how Peter Angelos probably felt. Throw in some residual disgust from Saturday's loss at Fenway Park and some audible grumbling from the clubhouse last week and you've got to think Perlozzo's seat is getting warm.

If there is some good news, it's that the Orioles have entered a stretch of nine games against two teams -- the Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals -- that just might be the cure for what ails them.

In the meantime, Perlozzo has become the victim of perfect hindsight. Everybody knows now that he should never have pulled Guthrie out of a three-hitter. The guy had only thrown 91 pitches, and you could just hear the Red Sox breathe a sigh of relief when he left the game.

Except that everybody didn't know it at the time, and, if you stop and think about it for one unimpassioned moment, you might conclude Perlozzo actually knew what he was doing.

The kid had not thrown more than 72 pitches in a game this year, and the Orioles are not exactly rolling in healthy starting pitchers. If Guthrie hangs around for the entire ninth and throws 105 pitches (or, for the mathematically inclined, about 50 percent more than his previous longest outing of 2007) and then ends up getting a magnetic resonance imaging test Thursday, I'm guessing all the same message board geniuses would be calling out Perlozzo for burning Guthrie up.

Guthrie is starting to look like he might be able to fill part of the gaping void left by the injuries to Kris Benson, Jaret Wright, Adam Loewen and emerging Hayden Penn. If I were the manager (and, who knows, I might be by the weekend), I'd be pretty protective of the guy, considering he was making only his third start of the year and only the fourth start of his major league career.

Let's put Sunday in its proper context. If the highly paid setup man and the great young closer can't protect a five-run lead for two outs, it really doesn't matter whether Perlozzo is a great manager or a stooge.

Of course, there's a lot more to it than that. That ninth inning was symptomatic of a lot that has been wrong about the Orioles during the first quarter of the 2007 season. Ramon Hernandez dropped a pop-up. Ray was late covering first base for what might have been the final out of an uplifting series victory.

Perlozzo arrived at spring training intent on emphasizing Oriole Way fundamentals, only to watch along with the rest of us as the Orioles have lost a discouraging number of games because of base-running mistakes, avoidable fielding gaffes and poor communication.

The blame could be spread all around the clubhouse, but the manager ultimately is held responsible for the preparation and performance of the team -- even a team that isn't very good.

If that weren't troubling enough, support for Perlozzo in the clubhouse appears to be evaporating. It was less than a month ago that several players publicly gushed about the Orioles' great team chemistry, but it was just last week that outfielder-designated hitter Jay Gibbons openly complained about his playing time and left room to wonder whether he was the only player dissatisfied with Perlozzo's handling of the team.

He probably isn't, but that doesn't necessarily mean Perlozzo is doing anything wrong. The Orioles opened the three-game series in Toronto just Sunday's loss away from the winning percentage (.500) that was the stated goal of the front office going into the season.

Maybe the preseason outlook has been revised, because it isn't hard to find people inside and outside the organization to tell you the Orioles have lost at least five games because of some ill-advised move by their suddenly embattled manager.

Clearly, fan frustration crystallized Sunday when the Red Sox staged one of those once-in-a-season rallies and the Orioles blew a terrific opportunity to build some credibility and momentum against a team that has dominated them in recent years.

Perlozzo couldn't hide his own displeasure in the dugout afterward. Now, we're just waiting to see how long Angelos can hide his.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

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