Evaluating the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, two birds of a distinct and different baseball species, leads to this overwhelming conclusion on paper: There's absolutely and positively no comparison when it comes to measuring the talent available. It's a telling contrast.
That's right. The Orioles come off as inferior to the Jays in a position-by-position analysis. So what are they doing carrying the battle for first place into the last week of the season, conceivably going down to the ninth inning of the final day?
It's another reminder, yes, once again, that sports mirrors life itself and there's no guarantee the richly endowed will succeed. Why else would the multitalented Blue Jays, who should be on top by at least the length of a city block, still be trying to hold off the ever-pressing Orioles, who refuse to "spit the bit"?
It's not a mirage nor a fantasy. The Orioles have gotten to where they are, the upper echelon of the American League's Eastern Division, because of one trait -- persistence. Their drive and desire, plus the early surprise aspect of shocking other clubs who deceived themselves into believing the Orioles were as bad as the shameful last-place record in 1988 indicated, worked in Baltimore's behalf.
Now to the lineups, the pros and cons ...
First base -- Fred McGriff over Randy Milligan. More power and consistent hitting. There's some similarity on defense. Neither one, in the field, would make you forget Joe Kuhel or Mickey Vernon. Pick: Toronto.
Second base -- The Blue Jays make use of Manny Lee and Nelson Liriano. The Orioles have employed a troika of Billy Ripken, Rene Gonzales and Tim Hulett. It's possible none of the three, an opinion manager Frank Robinson indeed has expressed, could make the Blue Jays' squad. Pick: Toronto.
Shortstop -- Cal Ripken Jr. Does the job in the middle. There's not a play he can't make. Strong, accurate arm. Doesn't have the flamboyance of Tony Fernandez, who can carry Ripken's glove but not his bat. Pick: Baltimore.
Third base -- The only thing Kelly Gruber does better than Craig Worthington, who keeps getting better, is run the bases. A close call. Pick: Baltimore.
Left field -- George Bell over Phil Bradley by a wide margin. Pick: Toronto.
Center field -- It's a standoff between Toronto's Lloyd Moseby and the pair of Mike Devereaux and Steve Finley. Toss a coin, if you want, but there's little difference. Pick: Even.
Rightfield -- Veteran Mookie Wilson, acquired from the New York Mets, arrived at precisely the time when Junior Felix slumped. Joe Orsulak, vastly underrated, and Stanley Jefferson largely share the position for the Orioles. Pick: Toronto.
Catching -- Ernie Whitt and Pat Borders rate slightly ahead of Jamie Quirk and Bob Melvin. All four have better than adequate arms. The loss of Mickey Tettleton to knee surgery hurt Baltimore behind the plate, but his value as a designated hitter can't be minimized. Pick: Toronto.
Starting pitchers -- John Stieb and Jimmy Key, plus Mike Flanagan, John Cerutti and Todd Stottlemeyer, vs. Jeff Ballard, Bob Milacki, Dave Johnson, Pete Harnisch and Dave Schmidt. Pick: Toronto.
Relief pitchers -- Strength in the middle innings from Mark Williamson, who throws double-play balls, gives the Orioles a clear edge on David Wells and Jim Acker. As a closer, Gregg Olson is almost unhittable. The Blue Jays, though, offer an equally respected reliever in power pitcher Tom Henke, plus Duane Ward and Frank Wills, all with outstanding arms. Pick: Toronto.
Designated hitter -- Mickey Tettleton over anyone the Blue Jays send up. Pick: Baltimore.
Home field advantage -- The last three games of the season will be played in the Blue Jays' park. Pick: Toronto.
Psychological advantage -- It's bothersome to the Blue Jays that they have a well-earned reputation for being "choke artists". Little was expected from the Orioles. Pick: Baltimore.
As to team qualities regarding defense, speed, hitting ability, pitching and power, give Baltimore the margin only on defense -- they wouldn't be where they are without it -- and Toronto the best of it in the other four categories.
So, from the aspect of talent on the field, the Blue Jays should have long ago closed out the race, except the Orioles refuse to surrender. The Blue Jays act as if they want the title handed to them in gift wrapping. Despite their overall superiority, they usually find a way to lose, which continues to play on their psyches.
Remember, the race doesn't always go to the swiftest nor the fight to the strongest.