If O's can make it there, 1st in sight Baseball: In showdown with the Yankees in New York, the lead in the AL East is at stake.


When last the Orioles and New York Yankees met, in July, the Yankees swept four games in Camden Yards and the Orioles' front office considered breaking up the team to concentrate on rebuilding for next year.

Oh, how the world turns: The Orioles, who've won 31 of their past 46 games, begin a three-game series in Yankee Stadium tonight, with a chance to move into a tie for first place in the American League East by the time they escape New York late Thursday night. If they qualify for a postseason berth, the Orioles would be in the playoffs for the first time since 1983.

The Yankee Stadium organ will be blaring and raucous New York fans will be screaming, providing the Orioles something less than a polite welcome.

"If you have to play someplace on the road, why not in New York, the most hostile atmosphere there is?" said Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. "When we come to New York, we get bottles thrown at us. They cuss at us. They make it uncomfortable for us."

The Orioles are three games behind New York in the AL East and three games ahead of the Chicago White Sox in the wild-card playoff race. Baltimore's makeup game with the Milwaukee Brewers at Camden Yards yesterday was postponed by rain.

The Orioles have made up nine games in the standings since July 28, and as they have gained ground on New York, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner has criticized his general manager, Bob Watson, and his players.

All of Steinbrenner's machinations have been played out in tabloid headlines -- "IT'S TIME TO PANIC," the New York Post roared last week -- adding to pressure already mounting because of the Yankees' slump. The Orioles, on the other hand, sorted through their own controversies earlier in the summer, then traded for sluggers Eddie Murray, Todd Zeile and Pete Incaviglia. They've been celebrating of late -- on Sunday in Detroit, the Orioles broke the single-season team record for home runs, held by the 1961 Yankees.

Orioles manager Davey Johnson, sitting in his Camden Yards office yesterday afternoon, said that his team needs to win at least two of the three games against the Yankees to win the division and that he feels good about their chances. "We're playing well right now," Johnson said.

But, Johnson said, he woke up at 6 a.m. yesterday, anxious about the series with the Yankees, and he figures his insomnia will persist. "You don't sleep real good this time of year," said Johnson.

Second baseman Roberto Alomar said: "I'm excited about it. Everybody in here [the Orioles clubhouse] is excited about this. This is what baseball is all about."

For weeks, the Orioles have tracked the Yankees on scoreboards, silently rooting for them to lose. Starting today, outfielder Mike Devereaux said, "There's no looking at the scoreboard and wondering what they're doing. It's us against them."

If the Orioles win the AL East or the wild-card berth, they would qualify for the postseason for the first time since 1983, Cal Ripken's second full season.

The playoffs are scheduled to start Oct. 1.

Pub Date: 9/17/96

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