NEW YORK -- They sat in a large circle on the infield grass at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, a makeshift classroom for a veteran club with something to learn. Base running was the subject, implemented by a new manager with a need for speed.
Those spring training sessions well behind him now, Orioles manager Ray Miller can see another need cropping up from the old: "Finding ways to score runs."
The Orioles haven't been getting it done enough to satisfy the win column, and certainly not in the manner Miller had intended. All the March speeches and demonstrations couldn't change that. His team ranked third in the American League in home runs before last night's game against the New York Yankees, third from the bottom in batting average. Only two other clubs had fewer stolen bases.
Most important, the Orioles had a room to themselves in the East Division basement, insufficient housing for a team with the richest payroll in baseball.
Though the blame for this can be spread in many directions, Miller had been doing a slow burn over the Orioles' plodding ways heading into New York on Tuesday. They still were going station to station, requiring hits in bunches or a home run to score.
"One thing that really stands out is foot speed," Miller said.
The Orioles don't have it. And it becomes more visible when the other team does.
They showed more life on the base paths Tuesday, the catalyst being shortstop Mike Bordick. He drilled a hit into left field leading off the fourth and hustled into second with a double, tagged and went to third on a fly ball to right by Brady Anderson and scored on a line drive by Jeffrey Hammonds, sliding across the plate to beat the throw from shallow left field. Anderson added a stolen base and nearly was passed by Hammonds while scoring on Roberto Alomar's double.
But for the third straight game, the Orioles had a runner doubled off base, this time when B. J. Surhoff raced to third on a line drive by Chris Hoiles that Chad Curtis caught and turned into the last out of the inning. The previous night against Tampa Bay, Alomar took off for second as a liner was caught in left field, rounding the bag while the throw came in behind him. And before that, Eric Davis broke with a pitch and was stopped cold on a liner to third.
Those are just recent examples. Such mistakes have been as common this year as Cal Ripken's name appearing in the lineup.
Miller has tried to be more daring on the base paths, putting runners into motion, calling for the hit-and-run. And more often than not, it has backfired. The Orioles are 24-for-43 in stolen bases after last night, and are the worst in the league along with Tampa Bay. Many of the failed attempts were the result of pickoffs, all contradictory to the teachings of spring.
One measure being taken by Miller is to stack the top of the order with his fastest players. Hammonds has been tucked between Anderson and Alomar the past three nights "because he has some legs," Miller said. He also has the team lead in steals, with six in seven attempts.
Johns fills in admirably
Lost within the battle royal was the gritty five-inning effort from left-hander Doug Johns, an emergency starter who had just been activated from the disabled list.
Johns, who hadn't pitched since May 2 while undergoing treatment for insomnia, permitted eight hits, walked two and hit a batter, but departed with a 5-1 lead that the bullpen couldn't hold.
"I wasn't real sharp but they made some tremendous defensive plays behind me. I was satisfied," said Johns, who took Mike Mussina's turn in the rotation after the ace went on the DL.
Johns said he's still waiting to hear if he'll start Sunday in Oakland.
Catcher Chris Hoiles had the look of somebody who was in a fight, with a scratch on his forehead and another on the right side of his head. Worse, and less apparent, his right arm struck a television camera as the melee spilled into the visitors' dugout.
"It hurts. It's sore. But it'll be all right," he said.
Miller didn't report any serious injuries, but added, "A lot of them are banged up, probably on both sides."
Reliever Norm Charlton, involved in a 1995 brawl with the Orioles while pitching for Seattle, rated Tuesday's scuffle as "mediocre."
"I didn't think it was particularly bad. There was nobody standing there toe-to-toe fighting," he said.
Pub Date: 5/21/98