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Poor play, not attitude, causes slide


When a team that's supposed to win doesn't follow the script, the reaction is as predictable as yesterday's weather.

The first call is for an attitude check, which is generally followed by a roster adjustment. During the last week, needed or not, the Orioles have had both.

It was pitcher Mike Mussina who questioned his team's approach, which suggests that the Orioles either: A) weren't trying or B) didn't care. It caused a typical reaction -- charges that the Orioles lack enthusiasm.

Sound familiar? It should. The same charges were made a year ago, when the Orioles had a similar slow start.

You could almost hear the talk show phone lines buzzing -- just as they did a year ago. The Orioles lack a leader, their offense is unimaginative, their players are lifeless.

In situations such as this the vitals are usually overlooked. Little things, like being 13th in the American League in hitting (.256), 12th in runs scored (149) and eighth in pitching (4.80 ERA) going into last night's game against Oakland.

Those kinds of numbers are not conducive to enthusiasm. It's difficult to have fun when a good team is five games below .500.

Television cameras have a tendency to invade dugouts more often when a supposedly good team is struggling. The pictures that result are likewise predictable. Glum is a word that easily comes to mind.

Except for expansion teams, you don't see very many losing teams described as "loose." Instead, "tight" is the accepted description.

You don't see people pacing the dugout, clapping and yelling. If you do, the first reaction is to be a little suspect of false emotion.

For as long as they've been playing the game, it has been said that every team needs a "holler guy," baseball's version of a uniformed cheerleader. It isn't an easy, or even desirable, role to fill.

Years ago, near the end of his career, Hall of Famer Robin Roberts was asked how important it would be for the Orioles to have one of those so-called "holler guys." Roberts mulled the question only briefly, then broke out his trademark, sly smile.

"I don't know," he said, pausing for effect. "It seems to me that most of those are guys who can't hit or field."

If the Orioles appear to lack enthusiasm at the moment, it's a natural reaction. If they continue to play at their present pace, their emotional level will remain low.

What the Orioles need is for their hitters to hit better, their pitchers to pitch better, and their fielders to field better. If they do all of those things, then they'll holler better, too.

* For whatever that's worth.

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