"They've got a long way to go to catch us," the architect of Morgan Magic cackled. "We won 24 in a row at home."
That's right, 24 straight at Fenway, from June 24 to Aug. 14, 1988. Twelve straight overall after Morgan took over at the All-Star break. Nineteen of his first 20 as a major-league manager.
"We just kept winning and winning," Morgan said. "It was crazy. I don't know why they got going. They weren't playing good. They had a fairly good team. All of a sudden they came together."
Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
The '88 Red Sox got hot, acquired Mike Boddicker from the Orioles for Brady Anderson and Curt Schilling, then won the AL East title by finishing 89-73.
The '98 Orioles are 14-1 since the break. They've got an 11-game home winning streak. Call it Miller Magic. Call it whatever you want. The season has a pulse.
In a span of 16 days, the Orioles have gained 8 1/2 games on wild-card leader Boston. The only problem is, they were 38-50 at the break. The '88 Red Sox were 42-42 -- such a disappointment, they fired John McNamara as manager.
"In the Orioles' case, they got in such a big hole, I don't see how they could ever get out of it," Morgan said. "How far were they out of it [the wild card?]"
Fifteen-and-a-half games, Joe.
"How far out are they now?"
Seven as of last night.
"I've got to take that back," Morgan said. "They've got a chance. They have to keep going at a good clip, and hope the Red Sox really fold."
It has happened before, hasn't it? Heck, it nearly happened in '88, when the Sox dropped their last three games and seven of their last 10, edging Detroit by one game.
"[Bret] Saberhagen's the key," said Morgan, who was replaced by Butch Hobson after the '91 season but still attends Red Sox functions. "If he keeps throwing like he has, their 1-2 punch is pretty good. And [Tim] Wakefield has been outstanding.
"For them to have a total collapse, I doubt that. There aren't enough good teams around. Plus, they've been getting unbelievable hitting from guys who haven't hit before. They've weathered a lot of injuries, too, which is another plus.
"I really don't see them falling back that much, but eight games, that's not too many when you think about it, when you've got many, many more games to play."
Fifty-nine, to be exact, including six with the Red Sox the final two weeks. Again, these Orioles started further back than the '88 Red Sox. They didn't replace their manager. They just replenished their souls.
What did Miller say to them after the break?
"The only thing I talked about was the All-Star Game," he said yesterday. "I went home [to New Athens, Ohio]. I've got a lot of sickness in my family, some people I wanted to see. I was able to spend two nights sitting out in the quiet of a small town. The only thing I went in to watch was the All-Star Game."
He was inspired by what he saw. Roberto Alomar was named Most Valuable Player. Cal Ripken hit a two-run double. Rafael Palmeiro went 2-for-2 with an RBI. The trio's six hits fell one short of the All-Star record for most hits by teammates.
"The thing most noticeable to me was the life, the happiness of our three guys -- they were really into it," Miller said. "I said, 'For all the things we've been through -- I've had and you've had to eat more crow, more pride than any team in the history of baseball -- those guys went out and really enjoyed that game.' "
Miller told the Orioles to do the same, and they went out and won four straight from the Red Sox, three by one run. Their two victories before last night were in sudden death. Part-time catcher Lenny Webster hit the decisive homer Thursday, evoking memories of Dave Criscione in 1977 and John Stefero in '83. Rich Becker was a hero last night -- maybe he's the new John Lowenstein.
The Red Sox worked their own magic in '88. Kevin Romine hit a game-winning homer to complete a comeback from a 6-0 deficit against Kansas City. Todd Benzinger hit a three-run, extra-inning homer against Minnesota to give the Red Sox a 9-7 triumph after Roger Clemens couldn't hold a 5-0 lead.
Morgan managed 16 years in the minors before getting his chance, and during the 19-1 run he could do no wrong. The Red Sox stayed hot even after the manager got into a shoving match with team captain Jim Rice and suspended him for three games.
It was a great feeling coming to the park, huh, Joe?
"You ain't kidding it was doubly a great feeling," Morgan said. "Now I'm the manager -- something I wanted all along. And winning on top of it, people going nuts -- I'll tell you, it wore me out.
"Between the telephone, radio, TV, I wouldn't want to do it again, to be honest. Too much tension. But I had my day managing in the sun, and it was beautiful."
As beautiful as the Orioles' day in the sun now.
Pub Date: 7/25/98