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BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN : Orioles' Season Has Flown Away

August 27, 1995|Ross Newhan

It's an apt description of the Baltimore Orioles' season.

As shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., has continued his relentless march on Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games, the Orioles have emerged as the year's biggest disappointment.

Considered the teams to beat in the American League East, the Orioles and New York Yankees have been buried by the Boston Red Sox.

The Orioles have not won more than four straight games since 1993 and trail Boston by 18 games after being only 4 1/2 out on June 28, when they acquired Bobby Bonilla.

A Baltimore columnist reacted to that deal by saying the race was now over. "Boston is cooked," he wrote.

What he may have meant was that the Red Sox would now begin cooking, compounding the Orioles' ineptitude, which is not an indictment of Bonilla.

The former New York Met is batting .282 since his acquisition, although not with any catalytic power. Nor has his glove turned gold in right field.

Frustrating? Deflating? Maybe embarrassing?

"Of course," center fielder Brady Anderson said in the Baltimore clubhouse at Anaheim Stadium. "It's mostly been a struggle all year. We've never played with any consistency.

"People talk about injuries, but I don't know if we've had any more than anyone else. It's hard to pinpoint what it is. All I know is we haven't put it together."

And should have? Anderson said he agreed with those who felt the Orioles were good enough to win "but it's hard to predict until you see a team play. Even now, you can look at teams on paper and say there's not that much difference, but when you're giving three or four games away a month, that adds up to 20 to 25 games a year. That's hard to overcome.

"For me, the defense has been the most disappointing part of our game and I thought it would be the strongest. We made a lot of changes, before the season and during it. I don't know if that's the reason."

The Orioles lead the league in team fielding and fewest errors, but there's elements of execution not documented by statistics.

The Orioles are also 14th and last in team batting, 12th in runs, 12th in saves and desperate for a veteran player, relief pitcher Jesse Orosco said recently, to step forward and provide clubhouse leadership.

"...somebody needs to do something," Orosco said of the mellow atmosphere. "This is too good a team to play like this since the All-Star break."

Aside from rookie second baseman Curtis Goodwin, hitting .285 with 21 steals; first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who has 28 homers and 79 runs batted in; designated hitter Harold Baines, .297 and 20 homers, and starter Mike Mussina (14-7), it's difficult to find an Oriole performing to expectations.

A bullpen in which veteran Doug Jones and rookie Armando Benitez have been the primary closers has 24 saves in 34 chances. Lee Smith, last year's closer in Baltimore, has 31 saves in 34 opportunities for the Angels. Jose Mesa, traded by the Orioles to the Cleveland Indians in 1992 for the now forgotten Kyle Washington, is bidding for a Cy Young award with 38 saves in 38 chances.

The killer for Baltimore has been the disintegration of a rotation that figured to be the league's best. Mussina is having a Cy Young caliber season, but...

--Ben McDonald has been on the disabled list twice and has two wins for his $4.5 million;

--Kevin Brown was on the DL for almost month in mid-season, hasn't won since June 2 and has a 5-8 record for his $4.225 million;

--Sid Fernandez was winless when the Orioles bought out the remainder of his $3 million contract and sent him to Philadelphia, where he is enjoying a modest revival;

--And Arthur Rhodes is 2-5 and pitching out of the bullpen. The Orioles' collapse has cast shadows across the futures of General Manager Roland Hemond, whose contract expires at the end of the season, and rookie Manager Phil Regan, signed through 1996.

Owner Peter Angelos, known to admire Oakland Athletic Manager Tony LaRussa, said this week that the entire organization will be evaluated in October.

Angelos said he was obviously disappointed but vowed that money would be spent to rebuild the team and farm system.

"We're going to make it work. We're not going to be discouraged," he said.

He cited the team's many injuries and said: "Now, it's true, as a lot of people will say, that other teams have had a lot of injuries too. But other teams have been more fortunate in dealing with their injuries. If anybody wants to suggest [that Boston's] signing of Tim Wakefield was a move of genius, they need to have their head examined. They were lucky, and that's great for them.

"Could we have been more aggressive in dealing with the bullpen situation? Definitely. Can I say the checkbook has been open since Day One? Yes. We haven't held back in any way from giving the fans a winner and giving them a return on the tremendous support they give this ballclub, and that will continue to be our policy."

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