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Team tired of defending surprisingly good play

On media coverage

May 01, 2008|By PETER SCHMUCK

During the recent road series between the Orioles and Chicago White Sox, two former Orioles Cy Young Award winners were having a conversation about the surprise team in the American League East.

"The trouble with playing the Orioles," White Sox broadcaster Steve Stone said to Orioles broadcaster Jim Palmer, "is that they don't know how bad they are."

Palmer allowed that his former teammate was just trying to be funny, but the Orioles have grown tired of hearing how they have found their way into the upper reaches of the division through some combination of smoke, mirrors, overachievement and lottery-sized good luck.

Even as they begin to get some national attention for the strong start that turned this week's home series against the Tampa Bay Rays into an unlikely battle for first place, they are losing patience with the steady undercurrent of skepticism that accompanies each attempt to explain their early success.

"It's not a fluke we're leading the AL East just because some people were wrong with their [early-season] predictions," first baseman Kevin Millar said before last night's 8-1 loss. "This team's a hell of a lot better than people think."

It has gotten to the point where even-tempered manager Dave Trembley is starting to bristle at the carefully worded questions that - when you read between the lines - all seem to be getting at the same thing.

"I don't like to keep hearing, `You guys are a piece of crap. How come you're playing so well?'" Trembley said yesterday. "I don't like negativity. I don't have time for negativity."

Of course, it's fair to point out that Orioles officials spent a lot of the past year reining in expectations to give the organization time to rebuild. They set the bar as low as they could to buy some time to develop a new generation of young talent. They sold us a "no pain, no gain" philosophy, but apparently forgot to tell the players they wouldn't be good enough to play competitive baseball for a couple of more years.

Sure, it's still early, but anyone who has watched this Orioles team on a regular basis has to concede it bears little resemblance to the one that stumbled through a 10th straight losing season last year.

The Orioles have staged several late-inning rallies to win games. They've been winning the battle of the bullpens on an almost nightly basis. Though they have not put up impressive offensive numbers, they have delivered enough big hits in big situations to enter last night's game with the third-best winning percentage in the American League.

Nobody is saying the Orioles will still be battling the Boston Red Sox for first place at the end of September ... or even May. What they would like is to get their due for playing as well as they are for as long as they have, which is pretty impressive under the circumstances.

Oops, I did it again, damning the Orioles with conditional praise. That's exactly the kind of thing that Trembley was talking about.

"I think you have to give us credit instead of talking about how bad everybody thought we'd be," he said. "We may fall flat on our faces. When we do, I'll deal with that. The expectations aren't, `We're going to win the World Series.' The expectations are, `We're going to compete and we're going to establish something here and we're going to do things right.' I think we've done that."

Millar and his teammates have been posting offending newspaper articles around the clubhouse to create an us-against-the-world mentality that appears to be contributing to the club's winning chemistry.

Before last night's game, he tore the standings out of The Sun and pasted them in his locker as a statement to the various media types who happened by.

The point he was trying to make was that it doesn't matter what the preseason expectations were or what any particular player is hitting with runners in scoring position or whether the bullpen will hold up all year. What matters is that the Orioles are doing exactly what a major league baseball team is supposed to be doing whether it's April or August - playing good baseball and holding their own in one of the sport's toughest divisions.

That should count for something even if they have something less than baseball's most imposing offensive lineup or starting rotation.

"If you're a fantasy baseball player, don't pick anybody from the Orioles. ... Nobody is going to pop your eyes out," Millar said. "But if you're in the American League East, bring your lunch, because you're going to need it."

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

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