Fall Expected, But It Still Hurts To Watch

April 21, 2009|By PETER SCHMUCK

The Orioles limped out of Boston on the wrong end of a discouraging four-game sweep and a swing of the emotional pendulum - for both the players and the faithful - that was so dramatic it's almost unfair to throw young Brad Bergesen in front of it in Tuesday night's series opener against the Chicago White Sox at Camden Yards.

How dramatic?

Consider how you were feeling Friday night when the Orioles took an early seven-run lead against Red Sox free-agent acquisition Brad Penny and how, if you're an Orioles fan, you felt while Boston was blowing open Monday's game against relievers Dennis Sarfate, Radhames Liz and Matt Albers. There were a handful of uplifting moments in between, but the Orioles hit the ground about as hard as you can hit the ground when you weren't really expected to spend much time above it in the first place.

They jumped the shark when No. 1 starter Jeremy Guthrie came back out after that seven-run top of the second inning, promptly lost the strike zone and gave back four runs. The Red Sox, who had struggled out of the gate with six losses in their first nine games, were suddenly revived and proceeded to complete an unlikely comeback that would begin the dominoes tumbling toward yesterday's embarrassing 12-1 defeat.

So the team that was 3-6 is now 7-6 and the team that was 6-3 is now 6-7, which means the planets are realigned in a manner better fitting preseason expectations, but that isn't a whole lot of consolation after the Orioles got off to another uplifting - and apparently deceptive - start.

No doubt, most Orioles fans were capable of keeping the first eight games of the season in proper intellectual perspective. It was always knocking around in their brains that Brian Roberts, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis weren't going to combine to hit .400 all year. It was obvious the pitching problems were real, even if they did not fully manifest themselves in those first three uplifting series against the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers. Still, there is that place in every fan's heart where hope overcomes reason and, unfortunately, produces that illogical feeling of intense disappointment and anger when things turn in the direction they were always going to go.

That's why you can go to the various Orioles message boards and find countless posts from fans who feel if the Orioles would only give Pedro Martinez $5 million (and an additional $4 million in reachable incentives), the Orioles have enough offense to be a truly competitive team. Never mind that Martinez has pitched only a few innings in the World Baseball Classic since his dismal 2008 season and his contract demands also have been ignored by the other 29 major league teams.

True enough, he might be better than Adam Eaton, but the object of the Orioles' rebuilding plan was never to spend $9 million to find someone who might be better than Adam Eaton. Andy MacPhail made it clear from the start this was going to be a transitional year. The fact that the Orioles won six of their first eight games didn't change that in his mind, but the offense and defense looked so good early on it's not surprising fans started to wonder whether another effective pitcher or two might actually do the trick.

If we were talking about CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, that might actually be the case, but there was never a scenario in which the Orioles had a chance to sign the two best pitchers on the free-agent market. They could have gone wild and overpaid for Burnett, but one elite pitcher with a shaky injury history wasn't going to do the trick, and the price would have been 20 percent of the annual payroll going forward. MacPhail doesn't do things that way, and I can't say I blame him.

The plan was always to assimilate the up-and-coming young pitchers into the starting rotation over the course of the next two seasons. That begins Tuesday night, when Bergesen is scheduled to make his major league debut against the White Sox. The others are slowly lining up on the runway. Troy Patton has pitched well his first two times out at Double-A Bowie. Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta look like they're going to get to the majors at some point this year. This really is a time to be patient.

It's easier to make a case for MacPhail to alter the plan on the position side, where newly acquired Felix Pie has looked alternately helpless at the plate and in the outfield since he was handed the starting left field job over 2008 Eastern League Triple Crown winner Lou Montanez and promising Nolan Reimold. Both are at Triple-A Norfolk and have been knocking the cover off the ball - Reimold was named International League Player of the Week on Monday - but both have been roadblocked by MacPhail's offseason acquisition of Pie and struggling utility man Ryan Freel.

The Pie experiment is likely to go on for a while, but there is some chatter that Montanez might show up here soon. Top prospect Matt Wieters, who is hobbled by a slight hamstring injury, also should be headed this way after he gets back onto the field at Norfolk and gets comfortable again at the plate.

In the meantime, it's probably not going to be pretty.

I think you knew that already.

Listen to Peter Schmuck every weeknight at 6 on WBAL (1090 AM).

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