When the Orioles began a 14-game homestand on Sept. 11, manager Davey Johnson said, he would have expected his club to clinch the AL East by now.
"But I don't look at it like that," he added before last night's game. "I look at it one day at a time, what's the best for the club on this day. In other situations, where you're still battling to make the playoffs, you send guys out there with broken legs and everything else. With this, you've got to mix and match, give a guy some room to get healthy.
"Where I am at this point, it's most important for me not to do anything to affect the performance of a player in the postseason. It's kind of a strange situation to be in. It's not all or nothing. I'm in the playoffs. Would I like to wrap this thing up? Yeah. But that's baseball."
Last night didn't constitute the kind of baseball Johnson wanted to see, however. A 5-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers was made worse by what the manager perceived as a lackadaisical effort, which will prompt a meeting with his club before tonight's game in Toronto.
"We're not doing the things we're capable of," he said. "It looks like we're just not with it and that's got to change. We're not doing the things we've been doing all year. I don't know if it's the intensity level or whatever. Our concentration level's just not quite there. Just turn it on, turn it off, I don't believe in it."
Pitching coach Ray Miller seemed unfazed earlier in the day that the Orioles' mad dash to their first divisional title since 1983 has become a slow crawl.
"We've struggled a little bit offensively, but Davey's done a good job of getting some people healthy who were really banged up," he said.
"We were unbelievably lucky that we didn't hurt any pitching in the Sunday, Monday, Tuesday fiasco last week," he added, referring to the consecutive day-night doubleheaders against Cleveland that followed a night game against the New York Yankees. "That really took a toll. I knew it would."
One of the players Johnson is trying to get healthier for the postseason is outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds, who has started the last two games after being used as a pinch hitter and defensive replacement the two previous nights.
Hammonds, who has been enduring pain and soreness in his left Achilles' tendon for most of the second half of the season, said he feels good enough to play whenever needed in the postseason. Seattle, the Orioles presumptive opponent in the Division Series, will start three left-handers, but Johnson has another right-handed hitting option in the outfield with Eric Davis' return.
"I don't worry about it," said Hammonds, who stole his 15th consecutive base in the fifth inning, but also made a critical throwing error in the eighth that spurred Detroit's comeback. "It's Davey's job to keep everyone fresh and game ready. He's done a great job of it. Of course, I'd like to be playing more, but at the same token, he's been very wise the way he's been juggling players all year long. I'm not going to be complaining now and I don't think anybody else will be either."
Hammonds said the Achilles' has been the same, no better or worse.
Asked how he expects to be used in Seattle, Hammonds smiled and said, "I hope often."
Palmeiro's elbow sore
First baseman Rafael Palmeiro is receiving treatment before games for a hyperextended left elbow that causes him pain when he throws.
"I thought it would hurt me hitting, but it hasn't. I'll just keep getting it treated. I'm sure it will be all right," he said.
Palmeiro showed that it hasn't affected his hitting by going 2-for-4, including his 37th home run.
Davis takes a break
Davis had wanted to play three consecutive games for the first time since May, but decided to sit out last night.
"He's a little bit tired," Johnson said. "I think he needs the time to regroup, which is fine."
Davis played his way onto the postseason roster, going 3-for-6 with three RBIs over the weekend.
No pitching worries
Johnson said he isn't concerned about the possible wear and tear on his pitchers as the Orioles try to climb all three tiers of the postseason.
"There are some guys who are pitching more innings than they pitched last year, but do I think they're going to be ineffective? No," he said. "When the time comes, they'll be fine because they're not fatigued. They may be a little tired, but they're not hurting. The only scare I had was maybe Kammy [Scott Kamieniecki] because of some tightness in his biceps."
Going through three rounds also would be a new experience for Johnson.
"I've tried to do it the last couple years and gotten spanked at the end," he said. "The third time's the lucky charm, I hope."
Enjoying the front seat
Given the choice, Johnson said he would rather manage from first place instead of leading the club that's doing the chasing.
"I like being the front-runner," he said. "I like to be ahead and I like for people to try to catch me. I'd rather get out of the gate fast then stumble out and have no pressure on me and make a push at the end. If I'm good enough to make it at the end, I should have been good enough to get out to the lead early."
Pub Date: 9/23/97