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Good news: Losses really not that bad


You want really bad finishes? I will give you some really bad finishes. Romeo and Juliet. Very bad. No one makes it to the end in that one. The woman who answers her front door in the first five minutes of "The Terminator" -- extremely unfortunate finish for her. The Jets putting it in the Colts' faces in Super Bowl III. Ai-yi-yi. The '69 World Series? Butch and Sundance? Bambi's mother?

Now those are resoundingly, remarkably bad finishes. Two excruciating one-run losses in early July, as the baseball season is reaching its halfway point -- sorry to disappoint any Chicken Littles out there -- just doesn't compare.

Sure, the Orioles offered us their Stephen King Memorial Weekend in Minnesota, and it was painful to watch. But a reason to panic? Sorry, not buying. That was true even before the club went another 14 innings last night against the White Sox, and won this time.

It's not that the weekend in Minnesota didn't leave the Orioles more than a little wobbly and dejected for a few hours, or put them in a semi-precarious position. It's that this is baseball, where no game is that big until September.

"One of the first things you learn about this game is that you can't let anything, and I mean anything, roll over to the next

game," Mike Flanagan was saying in the clubhouse yesterday, a couple of hours before the first pitch. "There are far too many games. Far too many wars to fight. Something hurts you, and those games did hurt, you think about it for awhile that night. Then you just drop it."

That the Orioles had dropped their memories of Minnesota was evident long before the first pitch last night. The clubhouse was as loose as ever. Bill Ripken was screaming some gibberish about a pay phone. Brady Anderson was singing something about the Grinch who stole Christmas. Gregg Olson did a live spot on the 5 o'clock news, reliving his horror with a smile. Not exactly Team Tense.

It is at such moments that you give thanks for the very structure of the game, the season so long you can bury a couple of nightmares.

"If this was football," Randy Milligan said, "this team would be dead. Two losses like that, last-second field goals, a week to think about each one, that would kill a team. Baseball is a different story. You can always redeem yourself the next day. Change the story. Come out to the park and put the other stuff behind you."

It has been awhile since the Orioles needed so badly to put anything behind them. For those who spent the weekend watching fireworks, the club took the lead in the top of the 15th Saturday after four tense hours, got within one strike of the win, then lost. Then Rick Sutcliffe took a 1-0 lead into the ninth Sunday, but the Twins scored twice to win.

"Not since Toronto has anything hurt like that," said Milligan, speaking of the infamous and disappointing last (and lost) weekend of the 1989 season.

After Saturday's game, some players went to the movies, some ate dinner and some just went back to the hotel. Anderson sat in his room and watched "Big" on HBO. Milligan went to a fireworks show. ("Weak. Fifteen minutes.") Flanagan called his father in Massachusetts. Leo Gomez went to sleep.

"I was exhausted," manager Johnny Oates said.

They all flew home together Sunday night. It was no fun. "No one wanted to talk about the game," Gomez said. "Very quiet ride."

At the time, it seemed the frustration was the kind that would never go away. But by the end of last night's bizarre exercise that passed as a game, everyone was talking about Rick Dempsey's bunt that almost won it in the ninth, the three runners thrown out at third in extra innings, the masterful relief pitching of Alan Mills and Todd Frohwirth. Which is precisely the point. It is what happens in baseball: the story changes. Nothing lingers too long, not when there is always another game the next night.

Now, the Orioles do need to be careful here, with Toronto cleaning up at home -- winding up five or six games back at the All-Star break would be disheartening. But let's face it: Even if that happened, the Orioles are not playing the kind of baseball that should result in any panic.

They are pitching well, fielding as brilliantly as ever, and playing hard, tough games against some of the best teams in the league. They aren't hitting in the clutch, but that happens to every team sometimes. And you're going to tell me something is wrong? Forget it.

Something is wrong if Sutcliffe and Mike Mussina aren't getting batters out anymore, or Anderson and Mike Devereaux stop hitting, and it's late in August and the Blue Jays are seven games ahead. Until that happens, if it ever does, no bad finish is really that bad.

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