MONTREAL -- The standings suggest desperation, but manager Ray Miller still can envision a scenario in which the Orioles make a run for the postseason. Drawing upon an adage handed down by his former boss, Earl Weaver, Miller says the team must demonstrate slight improvement in its next 20 games, wait for some pitchers to return, then make a serious push.
"Earl Weaver used to say you try to be around .500 after 100 games, then play .600 the rest of the way. That'll get you around 90 wins," Miller said.
With last night's 9-4 loss, the Orioles need to go 13-7 to reach 50-50. Playing .600 the rest of the way would give them 86 wins.
Describing the situation as "a bind," Miller said the club needs to "find one starter and one reliever" to restore order to the league's 11th-best pitching staff. The Orioles have lost four in a row and are 10 1/2 games behind wild-card leader Boston and an out-of-sight 20 1/2 games behind first-place New York. The third-place Toronto Blue Jays have climbed four games ahead of them while the Minnesota Twins (37-41) have moved ahead of the Orioles in the wild-card standings.
On Thursday, Miller groused, "We're four games below .500 and there isn't a person in here who couldn't tell you what the problem is. I've been begging since April for someone to pitch the middle innings and just get three outs before they leave."
The problem with lacking middle relief was obvious as early as spring training. Miller then addressed the shortfall by expressing hope that a battle-tested starting rotation would bridge the gap to short relief. Injuries and insufficient replacements have aggravated the problem.
Miller spoke at length with general manager Pat Gillick yesterday and was informed of several trade possibilities. However, the market remains mostly stagnant. It is expected to be energized after the All-Star break.
Miller's predicament is that by the time the market loosens his team may no longer be relevant.
The Orioles may attempt to bridge the gap by acquiring an unimpressive starting pitcher and converting him to relief. "We can go get a starting pitcher or have one of our guys step it up," Miller said. "Or we can go get a reliever or have one of our guys step it up."
After Thursday's 3-2 loss to the New York Mets, the bullpen had a 9-11 record and 4.99 ERA. Armando Benitez has one save this month and absorbed Thursday's loss.
Ripken on a tear
Since bottoming out at .253 on June 17, Cal Ripken has revived offensively. The third baseman has hit in eight of his past nine games to raise his average to .266. Ripken also owns five extra-base hits in the nine-game span after managing only four his previous 22 games. Ripken has seven RBIs in his last 14 games after having just one in the previous nine.
Despite Ripken's awakening, Miller has no plans to bump him from the seventh spot in the lineup. Ripken has batted there in 25 of the last 31 games -- the six exceptions coming in National League parks. Since Miller dropped him on May 25 in Seattle, Ripken has batted .282 (33-for-117) with four home runs and 15 RBIs.
"I like keeping speed in front of him," said Miller, who has made a habit of batting Roberto Alomar and B. J. Surhoff before Ripken.
Miller acknowledged yesterday that Jimmy Key will not be back before late July at the earliest while the prognosis for Scott Kamieniecki remains uncertain.
Key has begun tossing while recovering from an inflamed left rotator cuff. Kamieniecki is still being treated for a "impingement" that has led doctors to resort to traction as one form of therapy. Kamieniecki did not accompany the team on its current road trip.
The club also says outfielder Eric Davis will be lost for the remainder of the trip after being hit on the right elbow Wednesday in New York. He may still be placed on the disabled list if "tingling" in the elbow doesn't soon subside.
Miller said Harold Baines is close to becoming available after a hamstring pull Monday.
Around the horn
Assistant general manager Kevin Malone made the rounds before the game, giving tourist tips to those players new to Montreal. Malone, a former Expos general manager, remains something of a celebrity here and could be seen signing autographs for the several fans on hand at Olympic Stadium. The much-maligned facility does offer one positive for players -- the major leagues' only clubhouse hoop. The 9-foot-6 basket is an open invitation to sky-walking. Ripken, whose consecutive-game streak has reached 2,558 games, was greeted with a standing ovation from the crowd of 9,116 when he came to the plate the first time. Chris Hoiles sat for a second straight game but has raised his average from .197 to .235 in his last six games.
Pub Date: 6/27/98