Again, better team is getting best of Orioles AL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Yankees have now won 13 of 17 games against the Orioles this season, finished four games ahead of them in the AL East, taken a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series and won eight games in a row at Camden Yards.

It's just not that complicated, is it? The Yankees are better.

And the Orioles know it.

"They're just a great team," first baseman Rafael Palmeiro said after the Yankees' 8-4 win in Game 4 of the ALCS last night.

Palmeiro wasn't conceding, understand.

"We can still get hot and beat them three in a row any time and anywhere," he said.

Good luck. The Orioles haven't won three in a row all season against teams with winning records, much less a Yankees team with a better bullpen, more heart, more patience at the plate and more ways to win.

Not that the Yankees are blowing the Orioles away; last night's game was the first in the series in which the Orioles weren't ahead in the eighth inning.

But the Yankees are shaming the Orioles with their excellence in the clutch.

The Yankees have come from behind in five of their six wins in the playoffs.

"I don't know if we can play much better," shortstop Derek Jeter said.

At the risk of cliche, the Yankees know how to win and the Orioles don't.

True, the Orioles were superb in the clutch against the Indians in their Division Series upset, but comebacks suit the resourceful Yankees far more naturally than the one-dimensional Orioles.

That has been the difference between the two teams all season.

"We have played a lot of tight, tense games with them this season," Yankees manager Joe Torre said last night, "and when a team keeps beating you like that, it gets frustrating."

The Orioles were, indeed, frustrated after last night's defeat. Their clubhouse was dead.

"It's hard to explain why they keep coming in here and beating us," Palmeiro said. "Obviously, they're playing better than us here."

A lot of teams have played better than the Orioles at Camden Yards over the years; the Orioles' long-standing mediocrity in their jewel of a ballpark has never been easily explained, but it's ,, a fact.

The Yankees' domination in '96 -- at Camden Yards, as well as at Yankee Stadium -- is a lot more easily explained. The Yankees are the better team.

They're the antithesis of the Steinbrenner Yankees: cohesive and uncontroversial, they're a reflection of their manager, Torre, who said recently, "If I was any more unexcited, I'd be asleep."

Yet they play the game as it should be played: They pitch consistently well, catch the ball, move runners along, do the little things.

The Orioles can win when they hit home runs, but the Yankees can win so many other ways, with speed, situational hitting, pitching, you name it.

The Yankees also can win with power, as they demonstrated with four home runs last night.

"The one thing about this club, and I have said it a number of times, is that nobody really cares who the hero is," Torre said. "There's really a terrific camaraderie here, and chemistry."

Camaraderie, chemistry, resourcefulness -- these are not adjectives that describe the '96 Orioles.

The subtle but sizable differences between the teams have been exposed for all to see when they played each other.

The Orioles were three games better than the Yankees against the rest of the American League during the regular season -- it's true -- but their inability to beat the Yankees was all that mattered.

Do the Orioles admit that the Yankees are just the better team?

"I don't think anyone in here feels that way," third baseman Todd Zeile said. "That's the part that is so frustrating. We feel we're as good or better than they are."

Said relief pitcher Alan Mills: "You can't go out there thinking that the other team is better. I don't think anyone feels that way. The fact is they've had some really good games against us. Who knows why?"

Here is why: The Yankees' bullpen, above all else.

Last night's game was a classic example. Yankees starter Kenny Rogers was so shaky that Torre pulled him with a 5-2 lead in the fourth inning. Two runs charged to Rogers scored that inning, narrowing the Yankees' lead to one run, but four New York relievers never allowed another run to cross the plate.

The Orioles knew they needed to score and take the lead before Torre inserted superb setup man Mariano Rivera and closer John Wetteland.

They couldn't do it.

Meanwhile their own bullpen faltered in the eighth inning.

The Orioles' bullpen has excelled in the playoffs, but the Yankees' bullpen is at another level. It has allowed just four runs in 33 2/3 innings in the playoffs.

The Yankees have outscored the Rangers and Orioles by 18-3 after the sixth inning.

"All we can do," Palmeiro said, "is come back out and try to do better."

Good luck.

Pub Date: 10/14/96

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