Streaky O's taking fans on endless roller coaster

June 04, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

This is the kind of season it's going to be for the Orioles. Better get used to it.

Not so much the walk-off home runs or the blown late-inning leads, although technically speaking, it's exactly that kind of season so far. In fact, you can pretty much plan your Sunday afternoons around the Orioles coughing up a lead in the other team's last at-bat, because it has now happened three of the past four Sundays.

In a larger sense, though, the season is going to be defined by its inconsistency, its ability to tease you, its way of dragging your emotions and expectations up and down over and over again.

On Friday morning, the Orioles looked to be out of their funk and out of their managerial crisis. They'd won six in a row. They'd reached .500. They'd started driving in runners instead of stranding them. They'd begun to have starters go deep into games, and the bullpen had stopped bringing gasoline to the mound every night. Sam Perlozzo seemed to have found the right buttons to push, instead of the wrong ones. Nearly a week had gone by without a former manager being floated as a potential knight riding in on a white horse to save the day.

That was after the first game of the series in Anaheim against the Angels, after the Orioles had beaten one of the hottest teams in baseball.

That seems like a decade ago, in retrospect.

The six straight wins and the .500 mark have turned into three straight losses and company with the rest of the struggling American League East again, including the comically dysfunctional Yankees. Not as many big hits, the return of the mental errors, the subsequent implosion of the bullpen - two solid starts were, once again, negated. Including one more by Jeremy Guthrie yesterday. He must be wondering whether he once took Cal Ripken's name in vain and is being punished for it now.

Three outs away from a spirit-lifting series split against the Angels, and Chris Ray couldn't get any of them. Yes, Vladimir Guerrero can do that to a team, but this was the wrong team for him to do it to.

The way these guys are all over the map, who knows how they'll respond?

So, the seat that had seemed to be cooling under Perlozzo seems to be heating up again. No question he's going to hear it again after yesterday, about whether it's just better to keep Guthrie out there until he gets his win, a loss or his arm flies out of the socket. That wouldn't be as bad as what Guthrie has had to experience lately.

One could make the reasonable argument that the Orioles, despite everything, are about where they were expected to be, near .500 with a lot of injury holes to fill. For a hot second, as the win streak mounted, some were talking out loud about where they sat in the wild-card race. Please, no more of that. It's an insult to the Indians, Tigers and the rest of the real contenders, for one thing.

For another, if a team shows it can't stand prosperity this much, can you honestly talk about it in terms of the playoffs?

No, you can't. It doesn't even seem logical to talk about it as a winning team. Now the Orioles looking up at .500 again, still on the road, facing another tough team in Seattle. And now, through the first weekend of June - more than a third of the way through the season - they've shown just how streaky they can be, how they can get on a bad streak easily and truly struggle to turn it into a good one.

For about a week, it had seemed the horrifying stretch punctuated by the Fenway meltdown was a mirage. Now, you have to wonder if the six-game streak itself was the mirage.

Neither one was. Until they prove otherwise, this is who they are.

Granted, it could be worse. The Yankees are still deeper in the hole than the Orioles are. Their role players are getting steamrollered by the likes of Mike Lowell, who appeared to have had some kind of Jim Brown flashback Saturday. One of their All-Stars is hollering at fielders to distract them as if he were still in Little League. (Give Alex Rodriguez credit, though - it worked.)

And their 44-year-old savior, the one who doesn't need spring training anymore, has delayed his arrival because of an injury that seems fitting for a 44-year-old who didn't go to spring training.

Plus, at least the Orioles aren't the Cubs. Yes, they both know about long losing streaks, underachieving highly paid players, teammates scuffling and fans rebelling. But for all those who have been demanding the Orioles get a feisty fireball of a manager to pump the guys up, check out how well that's working for the Cubs with Lou Piniella.

No, all this team is, is the Orioles, consistent in their inconsistency, predictable in their unpredictability. Masters of inspiring hope when it seems lost, then of quashing that hope just when it seems ready to grow.

Better get used to it.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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