O's roll on, adding to cloud of questions; Red Sox stalled, 8-5, but meaning of recent rampage is debatable


BOSTON -- At some point between Tim Wakefield's mesmerizing the Orioles for 11 outs without a hit and Jesse Orosco's striking out Troy O'Leary to cement the visitors' 8-5 win over the presumptive American League wild-card team, a question flickered: What might this steamrolling September really mean to a team out of it by April?

Yesterday, it meant a brief postponement of the Boston Red Sox's celebrating their second straight postseason appearance.

It meant that starting pitcher Jason Johnson (8-7) assured himself of at least a break-even season, a fifth consecutive win and his third victory in as many starts.

It meant the Orioles are 19-5 this month, 41-27 since the All-Star break and have proved themselves indeed capable of beating an American League East rival other than the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. They also climbed to within a game of .500 (77-78) for the second time in three days.

"I wish it could be July or August right now," Orosco said. "We're just not that bad of a ballclub. People may think we're unconscious right now. But we have a pretty good club. It just took a little long to get going."

The questions extend to what this month might mean to off-season remodeling of a veteran clubhouse, the status of manager Ray Miller and his coaching staff and the perception of a club that played itself out of contention by June but will likely show improvement over last season's 79-83 mark.

Majority owner Peter Angelos deemed Miller a goner in August, but, according to sources familiar with his thinking, is said to be reconsidering his options.

Angelos has 72 hours after the season to assume or decline the option on his hand-picked manager's contract.

When asked, Miller offered a strong endorsement of his coaching staff while debunking an "underachieving" label for his team. He cited the consistency of its offense and the Orioles' ascending league rankings: fourth-best pitching staff, fourth-best offense and leading defense.

"I don't think the team has underachieved at all," Miller said. "I think the pitching has underperformed, especially the bullpen, We've got 29 or 30 blown saves [actually 27]. Twelve of those are in the eighth or ninth inning. If you halve that, we're still in the picture.

"I can't change what happened the first two months this season. I've been here from the first day of '97, and we haven't had a fifth starter yet. I think you can go into next year saying Jason Johnson can be a pretty good fifth starter, if not better."

Johnson left without comment after working seven solid innings.

As for clubhouse composition, there remains an assumption that more will remain the same than change. "The core of the team is signed for next year," said left fielder B. J. Surhoff. "Compare our core with anybody, and I think most people would take the core of our team. You have to get contributions from everybody. That's why the Red Sox are in it."

There was much hard core to the Orioles' latest win. Hardly resembling a postseason threat, the 89-66 Red Sox committed three infield errors in the fourth and fifth innings to allow the Orioles seven unearned runs against Wakefield (6-11).

Each team scored on a wild pitch. During their five-run fifth inning, the Orioles scored when Brady Anderson was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, Mike Bordick pulled a two-run double and Calvin Pickering stroked a two-out single.

Right fielder Albert Belle continued his monster month while giving the Orioles a 2-1 lead with his two-run, two-out homer over the Green Monster after shortstop Nomar Garciaparra's muff extended the fourth inning.

The fifth-inning runs were unearned, as back-to-back errors by third baseman John Valentin and second baseman Jose Offerman ignited the inning.

Miller isn't thrilled with the blanket auditions suggested by general manager Frank Wren. Yesterday's lineup featured four rookies behind a pitcher making his 34th major-league start.

The infield had Pickering at first base, Jesse Garcia at second and Ryan Minor at third. Eugene Kingsale roamed center.

"I don't like doing it," Miller said. "Had we not won the second game of the doubleheader the other day [against Oakland], I probably would have gotten a call from Jimy Williams. I didn't do it yesterday. I kept one younger guy [Kingsale] out. I did it today simply because it's a knuckleballer. I don't care who you put out there, it's not going to be easy."

But why ask why?

The Orioles' surge has coincided with the infusion of young arms and legs onto a roster that looked positively arthritic in April and May. The team has won 16 of 18, including 13 straight overall and a 10-game road win streak. Although none of the rookies has been startling, their presence has allowed Miller more maneuverability in close games.

"Like I said earlier in the year, you can't look exciting or do a lot if you don't have a lot of speed in the lineup," Miller said.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Boston Red Sox

Site: Fenway Park, Boston

Time: 7: 05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: O's Scott Erickson (15-11, 4.76) vs. Red Sox's Pedro Martinez (22-4, 2.11)

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