Sour gripes

A game of kvetch for Orioles fans

On a string of frustrating losses

July 12, 2008|By Peter Schmuck

If Glass-Half-Phil Gramm really thinks America has turned into a "nation of whiners," he might want to steer clear of Birdland for the next few weeks.

In the wake of the dramatic two-week downturn that has taken the Orioles back to the lowest reaches of the American League East standings, whining probably seems like the only logical course of action for the thousands of fans who had become downright bullish about the club's unexpected first-half performance.

My advice:

Go to town.

This is no mental recession. Despite last night's win in Boston, the Orioles have taken a nasty fall, and it's going to be hard to get up. The bullpen is falling apart. The manager has - at least for the moment - lost his magic touch. This is starting to look like a soft-core rerun of the 2005 season, when the O's spent more than two months in first place and then came unraveled with a few key injuries. We probably won't have to sit through a squirrelly Rafael Palmeiro news conference this time, but you get the idea.

It's bad, and all the positive pronouncements about the progress the organization has made during the past year - though true - won't provide much short-term consolation if Trembley and the bullpen don't get a grip soon.

Don't misunderstand. Nothing on the long-term horizon has changed over the 12-game span that has been the difference between a solid, .500-plus team and the one that has run aground with a series of very frustrating late-inning collapses. The horizon is still there. It's just harder to see with a shipwreck in front of it.

Do you know where the Orioles would be right now if closer George Sherrill had not suffered three last-inning meltdowns and the club had not blown big leads in two other games since June 29? If everything else remained constant (which, of course, cannot be assumed), they would have entered last night's series opener against the Red Sox eight games above .500.

I'm not talking about the vagaries of a normal slump. I'm talking about five losses that normally are not losses. I'm talking about the kinds of losses that most teams suffer a small handful of times over an entire season, but the Orioles suffered five times in the span of a dozen games. If you feel like whining about that, I think you're on solid ground.

Don't point any fingers, though. Sherrill had a fantastic first half and is one of the main reasons there was any fun at all to be had this year. Trembley could have left Daniel Cabrera (Tuesday) and Jeremy Guthrie (Thursday) in for a few more than 101 pitches - the ball isn't that heavy - but if this is his first real round of managerial second-guessing, he's still the man.

We're not talking about blame here, just disappointment. The kind of deep disappointment that comes only when you feel seduced and abandoned.

Perspective is a wonderful thing, but if you're a diehard fan, you can be forgiven for checking it at the turnstiles. You can pick it back up after the season.

This has been painful, and not in that no-pain, no-gain way that allows you to take it in stride and wait until 2009. The Orioles have played above expectations this year and deserve your renewed respect, but that doesn't give them license to tear your heart out so soon after they won it back.

Admit it, you were just starting to believe they could win 85 games this year, which would have been a major step forward for a franchise with a decade-old credibility problem.

That was before the injury to pitcher Matt Albers left a serious crack in the bullpen and advance scouts began to get a fix on unproven starters Garrett Olson and Brian Burres.

Club president Andy MacPhail did a great job of improving organizational pitching depth with his two big offseason deals, but he never said that job was complete.

The one thing the Orioles seem to have in surplus is the resilience they have shown at a number of other difficult junctures this season. It just hasn't been as evident the past couple of weeks as it was most of the first half.

If they still have some in reserve, maybe they can battle back once more and make a run at a winning season, but you've got every right to wonder whether what you've enjoyed so much the past three months was really Orioles Magic or just another Orioles mirage.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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

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