Yanked down?

Fortune smiles on O's, finally frowns on Yankees

On the Orioles

May 20, 2008|By PETER SCHMUCK

The Orioles rode the train up to New York yesterday, undoubtedly hoping that everything everyone has been saying about the struggling Yankees is true.

The standings say so. The Yankees will enter tonight's series opener against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium anchored in the American League East cellar, the only team in the division with a losing record.

It's not the first time, of course. They got off to an awful start last year but recovered and reached the playoffs. That could happen again -- because they've still got more money than whatever deity you believe in -- but the buzz in the Big Apple is that this time might be different.

Orioles fans can only hope, because this time might also be different in Baltimore, which could mean something strange and wonderful might be starting to happen. Is it possible the Orioles and Yankees are like the two proverbial ships passing in the night and -- for the first time in who knows how long -- it's the Orioles who are headed in the right direction?

Stop whistling the Kool-Aid jingle. ("Kool-Aid, Kool-Aid, tastes great. Wish we had some. Can't wait!") I haven't lost my mind. The Yankees almost certainly will right themselves enough to finish the season ahead of the Orioles, but each organization has undergone a fundamental change in philosophy over the past year that hearkens to the days when the Orioles were the most stable franchise in the American League and the Yankees were the most volatile.

Orioles president Andy MacPhail has begun the process of restocking the minor league system and creating a reservoir of solid pitching depth, two pillars of the old Oriole Way that have crumbled over the past couple of decades.

Meanwhile, new acting Yankees owner Hank Steinbrenner also appears to be feeling nostalgic for the 1970s, when the Yankees ebbed and flowed with the irascible behavior of his overbearing father.

Hank presided over the removal of popular manager Joe Torre after 12 straight playoff appearances and recently hinted at a front-office shake-up if the team doesn't get in gear soon. There's talk new manager Joe Girardi is feeling the heat from above, and it's not as if he isn't wound tight enough already.

The new Boss lightened up a little bit last week, but that was before the Yankees were swept by the New York Mets in a rain-shortened, two-game series over the weekend.

For all of the Orioles fans who have suffered through 10 straight losing seasons and their own issues with a volatile club owner, it doesn't get much better than this -- at least over the short term.

The Orioles won the first series of the year against the Yankees at Camden Yards and arrived in New York on a minor roll, winning seven of their past nine games and sweeping a two-game set from the first-place Boston Red Sox last week.

They aren't exactly setting the baseball world on fire at the plate but have displayed the kind of resilience and resourcefulness the Yankees have been sorely lacking through the first quarter of the season.

Resurgent right-hander Daniel Cabrera is scheduled to take the mound tonight against former Orioles ace Mike Mussina, which ought to be pretty interesting. Cabrera looks like he finally has come into his own, and Mussina has bounced back from the slow start that prompted Hank Steinbrenner to suggest -- to mild national ridicule -- that Moose pitch more like soft-tossing Jamie Moyer.

The Orioles' first road series in the Bronx is just another test, as Brian Roberts pointed out after the uplifting Red Sox series gave the Orioles four victories in their first five games of the year against the Sox and Yankees.

"All those games were at home," he said. "We've got to show we can play them that tough at their ballparks."

That would be nice, but this is not about any one series being a watershed event. The Orioles are building -- they hope -- toward the time when every series with the Yankees feels like it did in the good, old days.

They aren't there yet, but they're playing good baseball, and the compass is pointing north for a change.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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

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