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Ones that got away take Yanks off O's hook


Despite a successful weekend in California, the Orioles could be excused for feeling like a band of frustrated fishermen when they arrived in Seattle last night.

Winning three out of four on the first stop of an 11-day road trip should be enough to earn the highest possible grade. But the memories of the ones that get away always linger longest.

In this case, the Orioles were left to ponder the "what-ifs" surrounding three ninth-inning comebacks -- one by the Angels, which prevented a four-game sweep, and the two the Mariners blew against the New York Yankees.

The reversals provided a three-game swing -- the difference between the Yankees holding their current 1 1/2 -game lead, or trailing by the same margin. They also reinforced the importance of effective relief in this era of pitching specialization.

Neither of the primary AL Eastern Division contenders has been overly effective in that area of late. That's more of a concern to the Orioles than the Yankees, who have maintained their division lead despite numerous bullpen blowups.

After a 3-7 homestand against the same teams they and the Orioles are facing on the last West Coast jaunt of the season, the Yankees' series in Seattle was considered somewhat pivotal. They responded by simply out-slugging the Mariners, whose pitching has gone as sour as outdated milk.

In successive games, the Mariners were unable to protect an 8-6 lead in the ninth, and the next night the Orioles failed to maintain a 3-2 advantage in the final inning. Lee Smith's fifth blown save of the year, and second in his past three appearances (not counting the one in the All-Star Game), was the most demoralizing of the three games in question -- but of no more significance than either of the two games the Yankees came back to win.

The immediate primary objective for the Orioles is to avoid losing any ground to the Yankees on this road trip. They dropped a game during the weekend, despite their success against the Angels, but the final analysis won't come until the 11-game trek has been completed.

The hidden plus from the past weekend is that the Orioles picked up a game on the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox, who split their four-game series. Both of those Central Division teams still have a better percentage than the Orioles.

But the gap is slight enough to ensure that the competition for the AL wild-card entry in the postseason tournament will be as close as the division races themselves. That, of course, is assuming there will be a postseason, which could be a rather huge assumption.

All of those factors tend to magnify the fishing stories about the "ones that got away." Which is why the game the Orioles lost Saturday, and the two the Yankees won the previous nights, tend to overshadow everything else that happened during the long weekend.

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