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BASEBALL EXTRA | AROUND THE AL

The Starters Will Be Key for Orioles

September 14, 1997|ROSS NEWHAN

The Baltimore Orioles may have a lock on the American League East title, but they still need a Key, and they are concerned about that.

Jimmy Key is 4-8 since starting the season 11-1 and has been drubbed by his former team, the New York Yankees, in each of his last two starts, giving up 10 runs and 14 hits in 10 1/3 innings. In the 46 innings of his last eight starts, the 36-year-old left-hander has given up 49 hits and 30 runs.

"I'm not at all happy with the way I'm throwing," Key said in a bit of understatement. "I live and die by control, and I'm not finding the spots right now."

Key has had four arm operations, and the question has long been: How much does he have left?

In 31 starts this season, he has thrown 195 innings--his largest workload since 1993.

The Orioles need Key to negotiate the best-of-five division series in which Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson would be the other starters.

Complicating the situation is that Scott Kamieniecki, the No. 4 starter who would work out of the bullpen in the division series but would be required as a starter in the league championship series, came out of his last start with tightness in his right biceps.

He is scheduled to start against the Yankees tonight in an important test, but given the concerns about Key and Kamieniecki--and with spot starter Shawn Boskie's tender elbow making him a playoff question mark--the Orioles would be looking at the irregularly employed Rick Krivda and a group of minor league possibilities as October starters--not an optimistic outlook for the team that leads the AL in victories.

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The Cleveland Indians, who finally seem to have wrapped up the AL Central, appear headed for a first-round matchup with the wild-card Yankees.

They get what baseball calls the home-field advantage, but how much of an advantage is it for the Indians when the wild card gets the first two games of the best-of-five series at home? The same scenario took place last year, when the Indians had the best record in baseball but lost the first two games to the wild-card Orioles in Baltimore and were eliminated in Game 4.

"Baseball is a marathon, and winning a division is the hardest thing to do," Hart said. "So why should we give the wild-card team the advantage of playing the first two games at home? The wild card should get one game at home. It should get no advantage."

Eventually, Hart added, the division series will be a best of seven--"It's just a matter of how to get it done."

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Assuming that with realignment the AL will continue to use the designated hitter and the NL won't, no team will be hurt more than the Seattle Mariners, who are expected to move to the NL, losing Edgar Martinez as a DH.

Unless the Mariners dumped Paul Sorrento and moved Martinez to first base, the two-time batting champion would have no position.

And despite the two years and $8 million he has left on his contract, Martinez said he would consider "the possibility of retiring" since he isn't sure he "would be happy in what the team would want me to do."

Teammate Jay Buhner is also unhappy about the possible league switch.

"I'm a creature of habit," he said. "I don't like the NL. I don't like the style of play. I like five-hour games."

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