With Orioles in a tight place, it's time to cut Perlozzo loose

May 21, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON-- --Can a loss to the Washington Nationals be as devastating, deflating and depressing as one to the Boston Red Sox?

Sure it can. Especially when they come one week apart and happen in almost the same way. And when two similar losses happen in between.

Momentum has gone completely against the Orioles, and there may be only one way to reverse it. Actually, two ways, but as they say, you can't fire 25 guys. Or even the ones who can't hit with runners on, sustain rallies and hold on to late-inning leads.

If the ax hanging over Sam Perlozzo's head is going to fall, as the speculation grows stronger that it will, it might as well fall sooner than later. No, it isn't all his fault. It never is all the manager's fault. But no one can, or should, survive pushing every wrong button for such an extended period of time, even if it has become increasingly obvious that he doesn't have many buttons to push.

Danys Baez is one of his buttons, and when he pushed it in the eighth inning yesterday at RFK Stadium, after the tying run came to the plate with one out, it practically detonated in his face. Again.

The misadventures on the mound - that is, the expensive bodies populating it - are sucking the life out of this team, if the non-clutch hitting hasn't already. The sad totals from yesterday: 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position, most of them while Erik Bedard was trying to hang on to a one-run lead; 10 runners stranded, five by Aubrey Huff, including the last runner of the day, the potential tying run, in the ninth, on the first pitch.

Nor can Perlozzo survive the lack of support he's getting in the clubhouse. Somebody, anybody with clout, needed to have the manager's back yesterday, or anytime in the past week. Someone in uniform could have shouted down the shouting for Perlozzo's scalp after the Boston debacle; someone could have soothed the fans' wrath in the week since then, speaking up the way some key New York Yankees have publicly stepped up for Joe Torre as their season circles the drain.

Instead, the silence was deafening, the mood grim, nobody even giving much credence to the idea that the Orioles can shrug this off, bounce back, go get 'em next time. Miguel Tejada offered a little bit of that. It wasn't convincing.

It was hard to experience that, especially a day after Perlozzo expressed his support for the struggling, scuffling, yet still sinking players. "I love them to death," he said.

When they don't seem to love you back, though, it's time to pull the plug.

Whether it's because the mishandling of the mess of a bullpen is doing him in or because the players have just tuned him out, it seems painfully apparent that he can't wring anything else out of this roster. The public can pick apart his strategy and philosophies, even his loyalties (he's "still got faith" in the battered Baez) all day and night, but nothing can sink a manager faster than indifference from his players, on and off the field.

This one yesterday was brutal, and yet it was as if you could see it coming a mile away. Did anyone breathe a sigh of relief when Bedard handed his seven-inning, three-hit, 12-strikeout gem and his 3-1 lead over to the Kerosene Kids in the bullpen? Even Bedard? Even Perlozzo?

The weekend began with the overriding sense that a sweep of the Nationals, the worst team in the National League, with the skimpiest offense and a pitching staff taped together, would buy Perlozzo some time. They got two of three, which sounds pretty good, until you phrase it as "two straight, then an epic gag job capped by a big hit from Nook Logan." Yes, that Nook Logan.

When you attach that loss to the five-game skid the Orioles brought into this series, which included the Fenway Park collapse and the two come-from-ahead defeats in Toronto, it puts them back where they started. A team of dead men walking and a fan base that passed "impatient" long ago and is headed toward "rebellious," one that surely won't give the Orioles a warm welcome home at Camden Yards tomorrow.

A sweep of the Nationals, Perlozzo said after the game, "would've been nice. It would've been very nice, I'm not going to deny that. It's something we can take into the off day [an exhibition in Cooperstown, N.Y.] and go into Tuesday ready to go."

It would have been momentum. It comes and goes, and for this team, it went really fast. Now, the wrong kind of momentum is going strong. The kind that smells of desperation, of making change for the sake of change, of dumping one guy because it's easier than dumping 25, of risking a move that might not work anyway if the players' hearts have been lost for good.

The kind of change that stinks for Perlozzo, who had wanted this job for a long, long time.

It smells so bad around the Orioles now, though, that this is the only change they can make.


Read David Steele on the NBA playoffs at baltimoresun.com/steelepress

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