Toss that script

O's send pundits early message: Don't write us off

On the Orioles' hot start

April 08, 2008|By PETER SCHMUCK

When the Orioles shock the world and reach the World Series this October, we'll look back on April 7 as a watershed day in club history.

We will all remember it as the day the O's - in unison - let us know they were mad as hell and not going to accept the ridiculously low expectations that have been ascribed to them by the supposed experts in the media.

It started when reliever Jamie Walker angrily called out a local writer before the game for repeating the spring mantra that the Orioles will probably have one of the worst records in team history. It ended with the Orioles scoring their fifth straight victory on an eighth-inning home run by new crowd favorite Aubrey Huff.

In between, there was plenty of time to ponder the tug of war that has quickly developed between the desire of everyone to revel in the team's unexpected seat at the top of the American League East standings and the need to keep at least one foot in the real world after little more than a week of the new season.

Let's leave it at this: The Orioles have won five of their first six games to take over first place and it's been a great - if short - ride. The bullpen has been fantastic. The defense has been solid. The offense has produced a key hit or home run from every slot in the lineup.

Why bother over-analyzing it. Maybe the Orioles aren't very good on paper, but they were very good during their season-opening homestand and it's OK to just enjoy that on its own merits.

It's also OK for the players to look at the dismissive preseason previews and use them as motivation. Walker and his teammates have a giant chip on their collective shoulder, which prompted several of them to lash back at the latest (but certainly not the only) attempt to minimize their chances of being competitive this year.

"If the players think they're getting short-changed, that's just more incentive," manager Dave Trembley said. "I don't give a hoot what Sports Illustrated or Fox or Ken [Rosenthal] has to say about us. I think it's good our guys think they're a little better than other people think."

So far, they are better than people think. How else do you explain a four-game sweep of a pretty good Seattle Mariners team? But even the angry guys in the clubhouse know you don't get vindication during the appetizer course. It comes at the end along with dessert.

First baseman Kevin Millar certainly knows that, but he wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to call out the Oriole-bashing pundits after another uplifting victory at Camden Yards.

"I think we were 30th out of 30 in the preseason power rankings," Millar said. " ... I'm sure you all jumped on the Detroit Tigers early. The game of baseball is fun. You all have favorites, but when the light comes on, you play the game on the field."

Since Millar was all worked up, it seemed like a good time to ask him where the Orioles should be in the power rankings now.

"Twenty-ninth," he said. "I think we had to move up one, right?"

Meanwhile, the Tigers and their huge payroll are still near the top of everyone's list, even though they have lost each of their first six games. The defending National League champion Colorado Rockies also are off to a horrible start, as are the Mariners.

It couldn't have been much fun for Seattle fans to watch former Mariner George Sherrill save three games during the series, or young Adam Jones score the tying run in Sunday's discouraging come-from-ahead loss. The way those teams console themselves is the same way the Orioles have to keep their success in its proper perspective.

There's a long, long way to go, and the grinding marathon that is the 162-game schedule has a way of putting every team in its proper place.

Does that mean the Orioles will end up at the bottom of the AL East standings and among the losingest teams in the major leagues?

Probably, but no one really knows what's going to happen next week, much less in August and September. The Orioles might be playing over their heads right now, or they might be developing a team chemistry that allows them to be more competitive than anyone could have reasonably expected when the season began.

One thing has already happened that no one would have predicted. Huff has earned a measure of forgiveness for his offensive offseason radio comments with two big home runs.

"He's still got a ways to go, just like the rest of us, to get the Baltimore fans back on our side," Trembley said. "But I'll tell you one thing: We're going to work on it."

Trembley had one other thing to say that probably won't meet with any disagreement.

"It's nice," he said, "to talk about something positive."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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

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