Mike Hargrove met with his ballclub yesterday after a 7-3 victory over theNew York Yankees completed his first season as Orioles manager. Left fielderDelino DeShields was among the players who spoke up. The messages were thesame, aimed squarely at the individuals who would be trying to prevent anotherfourth-place finish in 2001.
"I just told the guys they can't forget these last couple of weeks,"DeShields said. "Nobody laid down for us. We just played good baseball."
The Orioles swept the Yankees in a three-game series for the first time innine years, putting the finishing touches on an 8-3 run against playoffcontenders to end the season.
They went 31-31 since the club made the first of its five waiver-deadlinetrades July 29. Mediocrity never looked so good.
"There's a lot of work still to be done," Hargrove said, "but I think we'vetaken some very good, positive steps this year to give us a shot at gettingthis thing back to where we want it to be, and where it should be and willbe."
Chris Richard, one important piece to next year's puzzle, hit a two-runhomer in the third inning off Yankees starter Orlando Hernandez (12-13), wholost to the Orioles for the first time in seven career starts. The timingsomehow was appropriate, with New York dropping 15 of its last 18 games,including seven in a row.
"I'm just real fortunate that Baltimore gave me the opportunity to playevery day," said Richard, who had 13 homers and 36 RBIs in 199 at-bats withthe Orioles after being acquired from St. Louis. "It's been good for me, andI'm very fortunate to have been traded."
Albert Belle added his first homer since Aug. 12 on his final at-bat of theseason. He also had a sacrifice fly, leaving him with 103 RBIs to go with a.281 average and 23 homers.
The Orioles scored their first run when Richard stole home on the front endof a double steal with Melvin Mora. It's a style of baseball rarely seen froma plodding club that gained fresh legs in the second half.
"We're a more creative team than before," DeShields said. "We had a reallygood team before, but we scored one way for the most part. Now we can hit youdifferent ways. It's the kind of ball I grew up playing when I came into theleague."
Buddy Groom entered in the eighth and become the first American Leaguepitcher with 70 appearances in five straight seasons. He pitched in six of thefinal seven games to join Colorado's Mike Myers, the only other pitcher toreach the milestone. Myers got there a little ahead of Groom.
"I'd have to find a deep bunker if I didn't get him in the game," Hargrovesaid. "I woke up this morning and saw the fog and said, `Oh man, don't tellme.' "
"Any time you can do anything record-wise at any level, it's something tobe proud of," Groom said. "I'll take it in stride and come back next yearready to go another 70."
Groom received a warm ovation when the bullpen gates swung open, and againafter striking out Clay Bellinger to end the inning. But the loudest applausewas reserved for Cal Ripken when he batted with one out in the eighth.
Ripken stepped out of the box and waved to the crowd, which stayed on itsfeet. He has every intention of returning to the Orioles next season, but heremains without a contract.
Proving his health shouldn't be an issue in negotiations, Ripken startedthe final six games at third base. He played the day after a night game forthe first time since coming off the disabled list Sept. 1, going 1-for-3 withan RBI and two runs.
"I think what Cal has shown is when Cal's ready to play, he can play,"Hargrove said.
Jose Mercedes went five innings, allowing two runs and walking six. Hefinished as the staff's leader in victories at 14-7, and its only starterabove .500. His 11 wins in the second half are the most in the AmericanLeague.
"I feel great about it because I went through a lot of stuff that peopledon't know about. I'm very proud of myself," said Mercedes, who wouldn'telaborate.
"It's not how the season starts, it's how it ends. Sometimes, if you endgood, you forget about everything else, whatever happened in the past. That'sthe case with me."
Hargrove wouldn't mind forgetting about the negative aspects of thisseason, including the wild inconsistency in the first half that doomed theclub to again finish ahead of only Tampa Bay. Having won five straight ALCentral titles in Cleveland before this year, Hargrove finished yesterday ingood spirits.
"I had a lot of people come up to me and say, `Oh, you've had such a toughseason,' almost like they're feeling sorry for me. But I want to tell you thehonest-to-goodness truth: I've enjoyed this season," he said.
"Obviously there have been parts that have been a lot more fun andenjoyable than other parts, but I've enjoyed this season. The veterans we hadhere were good people and good players. They played hard and I enjoyed beingaround them. And I learned a lot from them. Since we've gone to our kids, I'veenjoyed them, too, and learned from them. It's gone fairly quickly and I'mlooking forward to next year.
"We can honestly say that we're obviously playing better, but I also thinkwe're a better team now than we were," Hargrove added. "As long as youcontinue that sort of progression, then it bodes well for the future."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun