Birds of a Feather
After the Orioles beat the Blue Jays 7-1 on Sunday to regain a percentage-points lead in the American League East and the best record in the majors, Baltimore coach Davey Lopes, a veteran of numerous pennant races, said winning two out of three over the Jays was "psychologically important. If they had kicked our butts, they might be thinking, Hey, these guys can't beat us. But any observant person now knows that what's happening here in Baltimore isn't just a bunch of hoopla about the new stadium. This team isn't to be taken for granted."
Toronto now realizes that. One year after losing 95 games, the Orioles are 1992's comeback story, a team that has emerged as a serious contender against a Blue Jay club that Toronto third baseman Kelly Gruber said this spring would win its division by 15 games. Indeed, the inevitable comparisons between the Orioles and last season's turnaround Twins are now being heard. "They remind me of Minnesota last year: defense, young pitching and offense," says Jay reliever Duane Ward.
The Baltimore defense features the league's most acrobatic outfield, which repeatedly wowed the three sellout crowds last weekend at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. In the fifth inning of Baltimore's 1-0 win in the series opener on Friday night, 6'1" rightfielder David Segui reached over the seven-foot-high rightfield fence to take a two-run homer away from Candy Maldonado. That catch was nothing compared with perhaps the best outfield play of the season, made an inning later by 6-foot centerfielder Mike Devereaux. After a long run Devereaux, who once held the Wyoming state high school high jump record, at 6'8", leaped well above the fence in left centerfield to take away a three-run homer from Joe Carter. "I still can't believe he caught that ball," said Lopes on Sunday. But pitcher Mike Flanagan wasn't as surprised. "Devereaux and [Brady] Anderson practice those," he said. "I've never seen outfielders do that. I don't know what that says about our pitching staff, though."
On Saturday night Anderson leaped above the leftfield barrier to take a homer away from Roberto Alomar. His catch couldn't prevent a 4-3 loss, however, nor could his 10th home run—giving him as many homers in 216 at bats this year as he had in 1,081 at bats coming into the season.
As for the pitching, Rick Sutcliffe, 35, set the tone for the series on Friday night, scowling the whole time as he allowed only four hits in eight innings. On days he pitches, he speaks to no one and no one speaks to him. "I'm a borderline jerk on days I pitch," he says. "My little girl and my wife do things to make sure I'm mad when I go to the park. Today I got ice water thrown on me in the shower. On days I pitch, my mind's totally on the game. I wasn't like that until I got traded to Cleveland [from the Dodgers in 1981]. Don Drysdale said the Dodgers scored runs for him because they knew the days he pitched were special. He had a presence. He told me when I went to Cleveland how important that would be when we were out of the race. I wanted guys to play hard when I pitched. I was mean. Now I'm quieter."
"Hey, erase the 'borderline' before jerk," says his manager, John Oates. "On days he pitches, he walks around like he wants to punch everyone he sees. He doesn't speak to me when I go to the mound. The hardest part of the job for me is to go to that mound and take him out—to look at that face. He's not too fun to be around on the days he pitches. And he's not too much fun to be around the day after if he pitches poorly." Those days have been infrequent this year; Sutcliffe improved his record to 8-4 with Friday night's win.
One reason that the Orioles signed Sutcliffe was to have him help teach Ben McDonald (7-3) and Mike Mussina (7-1) how to win. His influence has been obvious. After Mussina shut down the Jays on Sunday, allowing one run in 7? innings, Baltimore's record stood at 33-21, matching the O's victory total at the 1991 All-Star break. The win also marked the first time since 1979 that the Orioles have had the best record in baseball after June 1. And it was the 38th consecutive day that the Jays and Orioles have been separated by one game or less this season.
Check back in September. They might still be that close.
The New Tommy John