The Boston Red Sox left a huge opening. They fell all over themselves last week to create an opportunity for one of the languishing American League East contenders to rejoin a one-team race, but the only club to respond was the one not given a prayer of winning the division this year.
The Detroit Tigers just completed a three-game sweep that further humiliated the Orioles and squeezed Boston's division lead to 5 1/2 games, but they still have a serious credibility problem. They rank among the bottom five teams in the majors in team ERA and stand ahead of only Oakland in the American League batting ranks.
That statistical combination usually doesn't add up to a place near the top of the standings, but the competition in the East has been so soft the Tigers could be another good week away from putting real pressure on the Red Sox.
Don't hold your breath. If the Red Sox don't pull out of their current 2-7 slump during the tough series they open tonight in Cleveland, the team in the best position to step forward is the third-place Toronto Blue Jays, who play host to Milwaukee.
It's far too early to think about the draw for the first three-tier postseason in baseball history, except in Kansas City -- where the Royals just reeled off a seven-game winning streak that didn't even cause the Cleveland Indians to flinch. The Royals aren't ready to concede the AL Central race, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that their best chance at postseason play would be a wild-card berth. The Indians are this year's super team, but the Royals, under rookie manager Bob Boone, would be right near the top of any of the other five divisions. . . . Will the next Chicago White Sox manager please stand up. Terry Bevington is finding out that Gene Lamont may have gotten the better end of the deal when he went home a couple of weeks ago. The team is 5-9 (.357) since Lamont was fired.
The California Angels are proving resourceful. They staged a two-run rally with two out in the ninth inning Saturday without putting the ball in play. Trailing the White Sox 3-1, the Angels took advantage of three walks and two hit batsmen to tie the game. They won it in the 11th to reacquire sole possession of first place. . . . The West's distinction as the only division without a losing team doesn't figure to survive the week. The sinking Seattle Mariners ended a five-game losing streak on Saturday to avoid dropping under .500, but it's just a matter of time. Even Randy Johnson has proved human, taking a severe beating from Minnesota Friday for his first loss.
The trade that sent Andy Van Slyke to Philadelphia yesterday could set the Orioles front office up for more second-guessing. The Phillies -- just 90 miles up I-95 -- are in first place and were looking for an outfielder to help them stay there while Lenny Dykstra gets healthy. Van Slyke, who still knows NL pitching much better than AL pitching, could do that. . . . The Atlanta Braves are starting to put it all together, as evidenced by their current five-game winning streak, but they'll have trouble gaining ground on the Phillies this week. They open a three-game series tonight in Cincinnati. The Phils and their 16-8 road record should XTC enjoy a three-game set at Shea Stadium.
Joe Torre became the second manager fired this year, even though the fourth-place St. Louis Cardinals had won five of nine games leading up to his dismissal. The move, coupled with the trade that sent popular cleanup hitter Todd Zeile to the Chicago Cubs, seemed to be an indication on the part of Cards GM Walt Jocketty that the organization is ready to give up on 1995 and begin building toward a more exciting future. Hence, the naming of Mike Jorgensen -- the team's director of player development the past three years -- as new manager. . . . Former Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres and Orioles catcher Mark Parent finally is getting an opportunity to play regularly in Pittsburgh and he is making the most of it. He hit his eighth home run of the year on Saturday and has 19 RBIs, both numbers that rank him among the top-producing catchers in the league.
Here's some food for thought. The Padres have remained surprisingly competitive in the NL West, even though they have gotten just one victory from their pitching ace. Andy Benes hadn't won a game since July 3 before winning last week. He even lost his arbitration case last week -- which isn't easy to do -- but everyone knows that he'll eventually get himself turned around. When he does, the Padres just may be close enough to make a legitimate run.