Oates must look for shortcut to playoffs


So, how do you plan for what is essentially a 14-game season?

That's the dilemma that Orioles manager Johnny Oates is left with, following yesterday's announcement that the Major League Baseball Players Association has set a strike date of Aug. 12.

Oates the optimist hopes the players and owners can reach agreement and stave off a strike. However, Oates the realist understands that the Orioles' game with the Boston Red Sox here on Aug. 11, may effectively end the regular season.

"I'm disappointed, but we knew it was coming," said Oates. "The only thing surprising was that it [the strike date] was earlier than I had heard."

Oates said he had been preparing for a work stoppage for the past month, and his paramount goal was to get the Orioles into a playoff position when play is interrupted, which means either catching the New York Yankees in the American League East or the second-place team in the AL Central.

Oates said it was unlikely that he would bring a starting pitcher back on three days' rest, meaning a four-man rotation also is unlikely.

In that respect, Mike Mussina, who threw 93 pitches in the first-game loss to the Cleveland Indians last night, will not come back Monday in Minnesota, even though the team will need a starter then.

"I'm not planning on running one of these guys out there, then blowing him out and not having him later. I'd take a lot of things under consideration before I did that," said Oates.

If there is one good thing about the strike date for Oates, it is that it falls on his 27th wedding anniversary. "Gloria [his wife] and I can go to lunch without me having to worry about making out a lineup," said Oates.

Welcome to the big leagues

Rookie Armando Benitez got the proverbial baptism under fire last night in the first game of the doubleheader, making his major-league debut against Cleveland's Albert Belle in the seventh.

With the Orioles trailing 7-1 and runners at first and second with one out, Benitez, who was called up from Double-A Bowie on Wednesday, came on to pitch to Belle, who has 33 homers, including one off Mussina the inning before.

Benitez struck out Belle swinging, then got Eddie Murray to fly to left, ending the inning. The right-hander worked the final 2 2/3 innings, allowing two hits and striking out three.

"He has command and a good fastball and a slider. He was very impressive," said Oates. "I told him we were going to start his career against Albert Belle. I told him that jokingly and it ended up him going against Belle. You might as well start against one of the best."

Sabo returns to lineup

Third baseman Chris Sabo, who had missed two straight games and had left Sunday's game early with back and shoulder stiffness, pinch-hit in the eighth inning of the first game and started at third in the second game.

Two more for the books

The first of Murray's two home runs in the second game moved him past Honus Wagner into 14th place on the all-time RBI list with 1,734.

In the first game, Cleveland's Jack Morris won the 254th game of his career, moving into a tie with Red Faber for 35th on the all-time list.

Trading post

The earlier than expected strike date may have the net effect of cooling the trading market.

"You do have to think about that, how to weigh it, what talent to give under short-term circumstances," said general manager Roland Hemond.

Call his press agent

Before the Indians met to discuss the strike date, second baseman Carlos Baerga cleared the clubhouse of the media by yelling, "We got a meeting. All the press get out of here."

Murray, who is known not to hold baseball writers in the highest regard, quickly yelled, "I didn't say it, guys. I didn't say it."


The remaining games for the Orioles, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals until the proposed strike date of Aug. 12:

Date O's N.Y. Cle. Chi. K.C.

7/29 Tor. Cle. at N.Y. Sea. Min.

7/30 Tor. Cle. at N.Y. Sea. Min.

7/31 Tor. Cle. at N.Y. Sea. Min.

8/1 at Min. at Mil. Det. Off Oak.

at Min. at Mil. Det. at Tex. Oak.

8/3 at Min. at Mil. Det. at Tex. Oak.

8/4 at Mil. at Min. Det. at Tex. Oak.

8/5 at Mil. at Min. at Bos. at Cal. at Sea.

8/6 at Mil. at Min. at Bos. at Cal. at Sea.

8/7 at Mil. at Min. at Bos. at Cal. at Sea.

8/8 at N.Y. O's at Tor. at Oak. at Cal.

8/9 at N.Y. O's at Tor. at Oak. at Cal.

8/10 at N.Y. O's at Tor. at Oak. at Cal.

8/11 Bos. Tor. Off Off Off

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