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Self-assured A's show Birds how champs do it


Make no mistake about it, the team that just left the Orioles in a funk is still the one that other American League clubs fear -- and try to emulate -- the most.

That is the unsolicited testimony of manager John Oates, who would like to think the Orioles someday soon will command the respect the Oakland A's now demand.

"I'm not taking anything away from our guys, I think they played hard throughout," Oates said after the A's became the first visiting team to sweep a series at Camden Yards, by virtue of last night's 4-2 win.

"But I think there's something to be said for knowing how to win -- having the long-term confidence of getting the job done. I think we're still feeling each other out here in that regard."

The Orioles' season-high fourth straight loss was another example of missed opportunities. But, as Oates pointed out, they were only missed on one side of the field.

For the second straight night, the A's didn't bludgeon the Orioles with their customary power. Instead, they played station-to-station baseball to push across four runs, despite fewer opportunities than the Orioles.

Two wild pitches by Mike Mussina (5-1) cost at least two runs, and A's starter Bob Welch (2-2) survived a couple of early jams to keep things in order until Dennis Eckersley recorded his 16th save in the ninth.

Oates was asked if he thought the A's still intimidated the other American League teams. "Physically, no," said Oates. "But ability-wise, you think, 'We're good enough to beat these guys,' but deep down you know different."

Is that how the Orioles viewed the imposing A's?

"I hope not," said Oates, who nevertheless admitted there is a certain mystique about the A's.

"There's something about them," he said, "from Tony [manager Tony La Russa] right on down.

"It's something to strive for -- to have that aura they have about them. Look at our fans -- who else do they boo more, who else do they want to watch more?

"They [the A's] play well. They have a little hot dog in them, but they back it up. It's that confidence that says, 'I'll get the job done.' "

Against the Orioles, the A's got the job done as much with the bottom of the order as they did with their more heralded boomers.

"You might tend to look at their lineup and say the bottom isn't as strong as it used to be," said Oates, "but I'm not sure they have a bottom of the lineup.

"[Mike] Bordick's been among the league leaders in hitting all year, [Willie] Wilson is still a good player. Those guys have been doing a great job all year. And they still have the nucleus of the team that has been great for four or five years."

Last night, after Rickey Henderson provided the obligatory first-inning run (double, sacrifice bunt, infield grounder), Mussina kept the A's in check for the most part.

But a two-out wild pitch cost him a run in the fifth and in the seventh, after a couple of singles, another erratic curveball put runners on second and third with one out. Bordick's sacrifice fly drove in one run and Lance Blankenship's single drove in the other.

Better throws from centerfielder Mike Devereaux and leftfielder Brady Anderson might have prevented the runs from scoring, but those are the kind of things that aren't happening for the Orioles right now.

They squandered several opportunities, starting in the first inning, when two singles and two walks produced only one run when Chris Hoiles and Joe Orsulak both struck out with the bases loaded.

In the fifth, after Anderson's career-high fifth homer of the year, the Orioles had runners on first and third with one out, but Glenn Davis popped out and Randy Milligan hit into a fielder's choice. An inning later, with two on and one out, Oates took a shot with pinch hitter Sam Horn, who struck out before Anderson's grounder ended the inning with the score tied.

"When you're going good, you get a wild pitch and then hit a sacrifice fly and a single in the hole," Oates said, basically describing the A's seventh-inning rally. "You take advantage of those kind of opportunities."

The loss dropped the Orioles out of first place in the AL East, a position they had occupied since Saturday night -- despite not winning a game since moving to the top.

"I'd much rather have an off-day after a win," said Oates, whose Orioles are off today. "It will make tomorrow a long day.

"But we did a lot of good things during the first 35 games -- it wasn't just luck. I was expecting it [the hot streak] to go longer, but if you don't let yourself get too excited about winning seven or eight in a row, you don't let four losses upset you.

"Two weeks ago, everybody had Toronto clinching the division by Sept. 1. I don't hear anybody saying that now.

"Every once in a while a team comes along and wins 110 games -- but not very often. That's about the pace we were playing. I'm not sure how many we're capable of winning, but I feel confident we'll bounce back."

The Orioles still have 12 more games in a stretch of 33 straight against Western Division clubs (they are 13-8) before returning to the Eastern Division. The last nine, following a three-game weekend series here against the Angels, will be on the West Coast.

These next two weeks undoubtedly will tell a lot about the Orioles, and provide a hint of what to expect the rest of the way.

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