After hit seasons, O's, Brewers don't know score

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Orioles can bemoan their injuries and surprising lack of punch at the plate, but they'll get no sympathy from the Milwaukee Brewers, who are ahead of them in the standings despite some incredibly bad offensive numbers.

Remember how the Brewers' run-and-fun offensive chemistry nearly carried them to the playoffs last year? Well, the only running that manager Phil Garner is doing these days is running out of patience with a team that can't get on base enough to run any kind of offense.

Milwaukee entered the weekend ranked last in team batting average (.236), runs (116), slugging average (.323) and on-base percentage (.298), among other things. Some of the downturn can be traced to the loss of Paul Molitor to free agency, but not all of it.

"If Paul were here and hitting .800, it still wouldn't help," Garner told reporters recently. "One player can be important, but he can't be the whole team."

The Brewers also lost Robin Yount to early season knee surgery, but he came off the disabled list this weekend after missing only 17 days.

Perhaps the Brewers are just suffering from growing pains. Rookie of the Year Pat Listach is struggling through the early stages of his sophomore season. Rookie center fielder Matt Mieske entered the weekend series with the Cleveland Indians batting .167. First baseman John Jaha and 30-year-old rookie catcher Joe Kmak also are having trouble producing at the plate.

"There might be an argument for that," Garner said. "We do have a lot of young kids, but I think they can play. I think everybody is just trying to do too much right now."

If that sounds familiar, it is because that's the same thing Orioles manager Johnny Oates and many of his players were saying earlier this season when the club was last in the league in several offensive categories. The Orioles have edged up slightly, ranking 13th in team batting average and 11th in runs scored going into yesterday, but both teams have a long way to go to return to the prominence they enjoyed only a season ago.

Playing hardball

When San Francisco Giants reliever Mike Jackson hit ColoradoRockies outfielder Gerald Clark with a pitch and touched off a major brawl last week, it was the third time this year and the fourth time in the past two years that he has thrown a bench-clearing ball.

Jackson was the guy who broke Ryne Sandberg's left hand in spring training. He also brought the Los Angeles Dodgers out of the dugout earlier this year when he brushed back shortstop Jose Offerman with a pitch. Last year, he instigated another confrontation with the Chicago Cubs when he plunked Luis Salazar.

What is it about this guy?

"I don't know," Jackson said. "I guess everyone is afraid of getting hit. This is new to me. I don't care about a reputation. I'm here to get guys out."

Not a first

When Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonds were thrown out of that game with the Rockies last week, it was erroneously reported around the nation that they were the first father-and-son combination in major-league history to be ejected from the same game.

Of course, Orioles fans know better. Bill Ripken and Cal Ripken Sr. became the first father-son duo to be thrown out of the same game, on Sept. 11, 1990 -- two years before they made history again when they were thrown out of the same organization in the same off-season.

Reality check

The California Angels have been buoyed by the tremendous early season performance of young stars J. T. Snow, Chad Curtis and Tim Salmon, who have taken some of the heat off the front office for a series of unpopular off-season decisions. But reality is beginning to set in, and one of those winter write-offs is beginning to loom large in Anaheim.

The decision to leave relief closer Bryan Harvey unprotected in the expansion draft has turned out to be a major mistake. The Angels said at the time that they had negative reports on Harvey's condition after elbow surgery and didn't expect him to pitch again until June.

Now, the club is badly in need of a consistent stopper, and Harvey is one of the major reasons that the Florida Marlins have gotten off to a respectable start. He went into last night with 11 saves and a 2.30 ERA.

Regional appeal

The Charlotte (N.C.) News and Observer recently ran its second annual poll to determine the favorite major-league baseball team in that area, and the Orioles finished a close second to the New York Yankees.

The phone poll, a copy of which was sent in by a well-traveled reader from Columbia, was conducted during the first week of the season and drew 3,168 phone calls. The New York Yankees received 12.2 percent of the votes, followed closely by the Orioles (11 percent) and the Boston Red Sox (9.8 percent).

The Atlanta Braves ranked second in the poll a year ago, but slipped to fourth despite their second straight trip to the World Series. The Florida Marlins, who had not played a game when the poll was initiated, ranked 16th among the 28 teams. And, as so often happens in the real standings, the Seattle Mariners finished last.

Expos exposed

The Montreal Expos have played just well enough and pitched just poorly enough to create a serious dilemma. Do they mortgage their future for a chance to overtake the first-place and possibly flash-in-the-pan Philadelphia Phillies or try to get by with a starting rotation that has been less than disarming?

There has been speculation that the club will try to trade top dTC outfield prospect Rondell White for a front-line pitcher, but it seems more likely that manager Felipe Alou will try to gut it out with solid starters Dennis Martinez, Ken Hill and whoever else can come up with five or six good innings once in a while.

So far, the Expos have gotten lucky with Jimmy Jones, who is 4-1 despite a 6.61 ERA, but Alou has been disappointed in the performance of former Towson State star Chris Nabholz, who was supposed to be the No. 3 starter. He's 2-3 with a 6.16 ERA so far this season.

"Your No. 3 starter deserves as many chances as you can give him," Alou said recently. "I couldn't tell you how many chances he has left."

Trivia quiz

On May 17, 1967, four Orioles homered in the same inning, something that never happened before and hasn't happened since in Orioles history. Can you name all four?

Rocky Rockies

The thin air and thin pitching in Denver has Rockies general manager Bob Gebhard looking for help, but he knows that there is little point in making moves that are just going to dress up a last-place club.

"Teams will trade with you," he said, "but they are looking to give you older, marginal players for your best prospects. We can't mortgage our future for something that's going to be a Band-Aid right now."

Quote of the week

Atlanta Braves infielder Jeff Blauser's 9-for-17 performance against the Rockies last weekend prompted teammate Joe Girardi to make a lofty comparison.

"He's hitting like Babe Ruth," Girardi said.

Blauser was not impressed.

"I hope not," he said. "Babe Ruth's dead."

Right-wing organization

It was exactly two years ago on Thursday that the Oakland Athletics last sent a left-handed pitcher to the mound to start a game. That pitcher was Curt Young, who is now at the Triple-A level with the A's and has as good a chance as anyone of being the next Oakland left-hander to make a start.

Good omen

Every time baseball has expanded, a New York team has wothe World Series. The New York Yankees won the world championship in 1961, the year that the Los Angeles Angels and the second edition of the Washington Senators entered the American League. The Yankees won again in '62, when the Houston Colt .45s and the New York Mets entered the National League. The Mets won their first world championship in 1969, which was the year the Seattle Pilots and Kansas City Royals joined the AL and the San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos joined the NL. And, finally, the Yankees won in 1977, when the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners entered the AL.

What does all this mean? Only that the Yankees have history on their side. Nothing could help the Mets.

Trivia answer

Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson combined to hit 52 home runs in 1967, but neither one of them took part in the unprecedented seventh-inning barrage against the Red Sox. The homers were delivered by Andy Etchebarren, Sam Bowens, Boog Powell and Davey Johnson.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN LOWS

The expansion Colorado Rockies didn't expect to contend for the National League West title this year, but manager Don Baylor hoped that his club would be able to play respectable baseball. Instead, the thin air and the thin pitching staff have combined to make Mile High Stadium a dreamscape for visiting hitters. Here are some lowlights:

* The Atlanta Braves arrived in Denver for a four-game series last weekend with a .232 team batting average. They hit 11 home runs and scored 46 times.

* The San Francisco Giants followed the Braves to town and played a four-game series. They ran up no fewer than 13 hits in each of the four games.

* Baylor tried to change the club's luck last Sunday. The Rockies had worn special black jerseys for their first two Sunday home games and lost those games by a combined score of 30-10. So he had the team wear white jerseys last Sunday. Colorado lost, 12-7. "It wasn't the shirts," Baylor said afterward. "That's pretty obvious."

* There were some raised eyebrows when the Florida Marlins drafted $4 million-per-year reliever Bryan Harvey, but the wisdom of the move hasn't been lost on the Rockies, who entered the weekend with a league-low two saves. Harvey, meanwhile, had as many saves (11) as the Rockies had victories.

* The relief situation has gotten so bad for the Rockies that the Mile High Stadium crowd tried to talk pitching coach Larry Bearnarth out of making a pitching change Monday night, chanting "No bullpen, no bullpen" as he walked to the mound in the ninth inning of a 7-4 victory over the San Francisco Giants.

* How bad is the bullpen? No. 3 expansion pick Darren Holmes and promising minor-league closer Steve Reed have both been optioned to Triple-A Colorado Springs and short relievers Jeff Parrett and Willie Blair have combined to allow 14 of 22 inherited runners to score.

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