Excitement takes a hike in walkathon

THE BALTIMORE SUN

MILWAUKEE -- Let's see Fox liven this up.

The younger generation might want offense, but a game with more than twice as many walks as hits is simply offensive.

This is the side of the story Ken Burns refused to tell -- and the side Little League mothers know all too well.

Forget the pastoral wonder of the sport, the timeless majesty of nine innings, the green fields of the mind.

Burns should have been at County Stadium yesterday, interviewing the shivering masses who watched their beloved Brew Crew issue eight walks in the last three innings.

"One beer for every hit," one fan chortled.

That's a sobering thought.

The game averaged a hit every half hour.

That's right, seven hits in three hours, 29 minutes -- seven hits, 16 walks, four errors and two hit batsmen, all in a day's worth of family entertainment.

Commissioner/owner/ walkathon chairman Bud Selig had better not answer his phone this morning. It might be Fox bigwig Rupert Murdoch, demanding a rebate.

Who's going to fix this mess, Bud?

Is it a matter for the league presidents?

Or do we need a labor agreement first?

True, the Orioles deserve credit for rallying from a 3-1 deficit to win their third straight game with an infielder playing the outfield and injured players hobbling off the bench.

But for all the good that came out of yesterday's 5-3 victory in 10 innings, let's not award them the Red Badge of Courage just yet.

Their late-inning strategy can be summed up in one word:

Take.

"That's our attack," manager Davey Johnson said, smiling.

Earl Weaver played for the three-run homer.

Johnson plays for the three-walk inning.

Indeed, you know something is amiss when the wild and crazy Arthur Rhodes is just about the only pitcher throwing strikes.

"[Jim] Palmer came back four years too early," HTS announcer Mike Flanagan said. "He should have waited until he was 50."

Actually, Palmer probably would be a .500 pitcher today, with the strike zone the size of a quarter.

Friday night's game prompted the question, How does a team out-hit its opponent 18-6 yet fail to win until the 12th inning?

Yesterday's game begged the question, How does a team manage a four-run turnaround with only two hits after the third inning?

Brewers manager Phil Garner knew.

He ripped into his players in a closed-door, post-game meeting, stumbling over his words in anger.

"It was well-deserved," Milwaukee center fielder Pat Listach said. "We stunk the place up."

Heck, the Orioles pushed across the tying run in the ninth only because Brewers shortstop Jose Valentin botched a double-play ball.

It would be one thing if this were just one out of 162, a bad day for both clubs. But the quality of play is awful virtually every game.

The Orioles don't care -- if anything, they're overjoyed to get back-to-back quality starts from Jimmy Haynes and Kent Mercker the last two days.

But here they are, counting on Alan Mills to bolster their bullpen, when Mills is coming off shoulder surgery, and hasn't pitched effectively since 1993.

Says something about the state of pitching, doesn't it?

"There's always a point in a game when you say, 'Well, we can't give 'em any more, we're better off making a change,' " Johnson said. "But sometimes when you make a change, it's like adding a match to the kerosene."

Actually, the Orioles are in better shape than most clubs. Milwaukee reliever Ramon Garcia was out of baseball the past two seasons. The Brewers signed him off his stellar 2-8 showing in the Venezuelan winter league.

To think, Weaver once opened a season with an eight-man staff, the better to keep pinch-hitters like Terry Crowley and Benny Ayala. The Brewers, carrying 11 pitchers, used a light-hitting backup catcher, Jesse Levis, to pinch-hit Friday night.

Even with the wind blowing in yesterday, the Milwaukee pitchers still couldn't throw strikes -- reliever Marshall Boze threw 20 pitches, 15 balls.

Johnson adjusted.

Every manager does now.

The Orioles had the most obvious bunting situation imaginable in the ninth -- Bill Ripken scheduled to hit with runners on first and second with none out.

Instead, Johnson used Brady Anderson to pinch-hit.

Why give away an out?

Ripken is an excellent bunter, but fundamentals also are in decline, and Johnson asked, "Did we get a bunt down today? Johnson wanted the matchups in his control. It wasn't as if the Orioles were tearing the cover off the ball.

Wait until June 1, when Fox starts its game-of-the-week broadcasts -- the network is going to wish it had purchased the rights for that new soccer league instead.

Start that ad campaign, Rupert:

Dead Men Walking.

Baseball '96.

Pub Date: 5/12/96

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