Orioles welcome Angels, wearing halo of their own

If the last two weeks are a measure, the Orioles are proof that it is better to be lucky than good.

Since Mike Mussina shut out the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 5, the Orioles have won just six of 16 games, going 2-4 during the first six games of their nine-game homestand. And they haven't won a series since Mussina's 4-0 victory clinched a sweep of the Tigers.


In that span, the offense -- mustering a .221 average during the past 10 games -- has sputtered, scoring more than five runs in a game just twice, with one of those outbursts coming in a 10-8 loss to the Seattle Mariners last Wednesday. Pitching has been just as inconsistent; reliever Storm Davis has two of the six victories out of the bullpen.

There have been batting order changes, call-ups from Rochester to fill pitching holes and similar signs of a ballclub on the verge of dropping out of the American League East pennant race.


And yet, even with yesterday's 7-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics, the Orioles are just three games behind the Toronto Blue Jays, only a half-game farther back than they were after Mussina blanked the Tigers.

"Toronto's had a chance to beat all of us and put it away," said manager Johnny Oates. "Who knows? A lot of stuff can happen."

That's certainly true, but the Orioles can't count on the kind of good fortune they got yesterday, when the Blue Jays fell, 2-0, to the Minnesota Twins, while the Milwaukee Brewers, who could have bounced the Orioles into third for the first time since April 27, lost, 3-2, to the Tigers to remain a half-game behind Baltimore.

As luck, and the schedule, would have it, the Orioles should get another chance to gain ground on Toronto. The Blue Jays now go to Chicago to meet the White Sox, who have won 18 of their last 25 games, while the Orioles play host to the California Angels, who are tied for fifth in the AL West.

On paper, the Angels, who are wrapping up a 13-game road swing, look like the kind of club that the Orioles should feast on, before they head to the West Coast for a nine-game, 11-day trip.

But they should have done the same thing against Cleveland, Kansas City and Seattle, too, yet the Orioles dropped two of three to each.

Tonight's California starter, Jim Abbott, may be a particularly tough challenge for the Orioles. After last season's dazzling 18-11 mark, Abbott is just 5-12 this season.

However, his earned run average is 2.86, which is just about where it was last season. So the Angels, who are hitting just .244 as a team and have only one .300 hitter and no one with 10 homers, aren't supporting Abbott offensively.


"It's about the same with everyone else," said Oates of Abbott. "If they score him some runs, they have a chance."

Abbott has not faced the Orioles this season, but was 2-0 last season with a 2.13 ERA against them. Lifetime, he is 4-0 vs. Baltimore, with a 3.34 ERA, allowing just 11 earned runs in 29 2/3 innings.

Abbott may be getting the Orioles at just the right time, since they also are having trouble scoring.

Yesterday, for the second time in four days, the Orioles went through six innings with just one hit.

But unlike Thursday -- when they were able to use ninth- and 10th-inning triples to beat Seattle -- the Birds had no answer for Oakland's Mike Moore. He allowed just one run through the first eight innings.

"He and [Oakland reliever Jeff] Parrett have pitched the same way against us," said Oates. "They move the ball in and out and spot their breaking ball when they're behind in the count. Whenever you pitch that way, you're going to be successful."


With a 7-1 lead, Moore tired in the ninth, allowing two meaningless runs. Dennis Eckersley came on to get the save by getting Randy Milligan to pop out to end the game.

Eckersley, who reached the 40-save mark for the fourth time in five seasons, seemed a little embarrassed to have achieved the honor in such questionable fashion, with the potential tying run on deck in a game the Athletics appeared to have well in hand.

"There's been games where it was 9-2 and the next thing I know, I'm in the ballgame," said Eckersley, who only threw two pitches. "You just have to be prepared. You never know."

That's the funny thing about this AL East pennant race. You never really know.

No one knows that better than Oakland manager Tony La Russa, whose club lost first baseman Mark McGwire, the majors' leading home run hitter, to a rib cage strain this weekend in addition to all the other injuries the Athletics have suffered.