O's confront demon

Interleague jinx will test club's momentum

May 16, 2008|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN REPORTER

The Orioles just completed a two-game sweep of the defending World Series champions, their latest attempt to prove that a rebuilding club doesn't have to hit rock bottom before bouncing back to its collective feet.

Think that was tough? Now they'll try to take down the ghosts of their interleague past.

Sort of makes the Boston Red Sox seem a lot less formidable.

Since interleague play began in 1997, the Orioles have posted the worst record among American League teams at 79-114.

"We haven't really had a good record in a lot of things the last 10 years," second baseman Brian Roberts said, "so I don't think it really matters who you're playing."

Perhaps it was merely a coincidence last season that the Orioles were four games below .500 on June 8 when three National League clubs came to Baltimore in succession. They won the opener against the Colorado Rockies to move into a second-place tie in their division, then proceeded to lose eight in a row - including three to the Washington Nationals, tonight's opponent at Camden Yards.

Three straight losses to the Arizona Diamondbacks left the Orioles with a 29-40 record and cost manager Sam Perlozzo his job. They slapped an interim tag on Dave Trembley and took two of three in San Diego before losing two of three in Arizona.

"Maybe we're playing the better National League teams every year. I don't know," outfielder Jay Payton said. "Or maybe it's going to even out and we'll have a good record this year in interleague. I don't think there's any rhyme or reason to it. It's just one of those things."

One of those things the Orioles are trying to avoid this year so their newfound momentum won't be extinguished.

"I don't think it really matters, as long as we keep playing the way that we're playing," designated hitter Aubrey Huff said.

Said Roberts: "If you're playing good baseball, you're playing good baseball. It doesn't really matter American League or National League."

Teams in the AL hold eight of the 10 best interleague records, led by the New York Yankees at 113-79. Oakland is second at 113-81. Only Florida (105-81) and St. Louis (84-76) crack the top 10 among NL clubs.

So why haven't the Orioles enjoyed the same riches? "That's just weird," first baseman Kevin Millar said. "It's just like the Kansas City Royals thing with us. People say, `You've won 12 in a row,' or whatever, and I'm like, `Bro, it's baseball.' But we've got to change that this year.

"Sometimes, you get a bad draw. We used to complain about that when we were in Boston. The Yankees would play somebody - the Brewers or the Pirates - and we were playing the Mets and the Astros, getting [Roy] Oswalt and [Andy] Pettitte and [Roger] Clemens. If you were playing the Braves in their powerhouse days, you were screwed. That can be a factor. You've just got to change it."

When Orioles president Andy MacPhail worked in the Chicago Cubs' front office, his team would play the White Sox every year in a home-and-home series. Meanwhile, the division-rival St. Louis Cardinals were handed six games against the last-place Royals. It hardly seemed fair.

Now he'll see how the Orioles hold up against the Nationals this weekend, and the Pirates, Astros, Brewers, Cubs and Nationals again next month - the last three series on the road.

"I haven't really seen it here yet," MacPhail said. "I don't know why you'd necessarily scuffle, but going back and looking at the teams we played last year - Arizona, Colorado, San Diego - those were pretty good teams."

Perhaps that's the closest anyone will come to explaining an allergic reaction to interleague play that has given the Orioles a rash of defeats.

"I think that goes along with us beating Kansas City as many times as we do and as many times as Minnesota has beaten us," Trembley said. "I don't think there's any relative correlation to that. I don't think you can figure out why or how come. Some teams play well during that stretch and some teams don't. I don't think you can really put your finger on it."

Nobody in the organization is championing the cause to do away with interleague games. Their past issues with it don't cloud the bigger picture.

"My view is it hasn't run its course," MacPhail said. "The fans enjoy it and that should be enough."

"It's fine," Roberts said. "It's a good change. You get to see different cities and see some different teams."

All that's needed now is a different result.

roch.kubatko@baltsun.com

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