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Angelos labors, gains status as insider


Orioles owner Peter Angelos spent a lot of time on Amtrak's Acela Express the past few weeks, commuting between Baltimore and New York to play a major role in the negotiation of baseball's new labor agreement.

He returned last week confident that the sport finally is on the right track, though he admits that the contract ratified by baseball owners on Thursday is not going to solve baseball's financial problems all by itself.

"I was pleased that the two sides were able to fashion an agreement and able to avoid a strike that would have been disastrous to both sides," Angelos said. "By reaching an agreement, the sport could continue and maintain the confidence of the fans. That generates a feeling of satisfaction that we got it done.

"Did we reach perfection? ... No ... but it's a step in the right direction and it was accomplished without all the rancor that has characterized this relationship in the past."

Angelos was invited into the process by baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who recognized the value of having an owner at the bargaining table with experience as a labor lawyer. It was quite in contrast to the 1994-1995 labor debacle, when Angelos' refusal to field a replacement team cast him as a renegade who was undermining the effort to impose a hard salary cap on the players.

Now, he appears to be very much a member of ownership's inner circle, though the extent of Selig's appreciation will not be known until the owners decide what they are going to do with the Montreal Expos.

Major League Baseball owns and operates the struggling franchise, which was targeted for elimination until the new labor deal postponed contraction until 2007. Two ownership groups in the Washington area are willing to pay almost any price to bring the team to the district or the Northern Virginia suburbs, but that would also bring financial harm to the Orioles.

Angelos insists that he has no promise from his fellow owners to keep a team out of Washington, instead depending on them to share his view that it would be a bad idea to dilute the Baltimore/Washington market.

He might not have to wait long to find out. Baseball will have to move quickly if there is to be any chance of relocating the Expos before the start of the 2003 season. Expos president Tony Tavares hinted Thursday that a decision could be forthcoming in the next 10 days.

Orioles aren't hopeless

It was just two weeks ago that the Orioles arrived at the .500 mark and - it seemed - validated the popular notion that the organization's rebuilding effort was gaining momentum.

Now, after a discouraging 10-game losing streak, the bandwagon is all but empty.

Let's get real here. The Orioles were ripe for a tailspin. The pitching staff is banged up. The attack is marginal. And many of the young players who contributed to the club's solid midseason performance are used to going home about now.

Factor in the roller-coaster labor situation and you've got all the makings of a team-wide letdown. Fans have a right to be dismayed, but this doesn't necessarily mean that the 2002 season has been a washout.

If the Orioles move decisively this winter to upgrade their starting rotation and put a star-quality power hitter at the heart of the lineup, fans can still dream of a wild-card run next year.

Sele on shelf

Angelos faced two years of second-guessing after he withdrew a rich four-year contract offer made to free-agent pitcher Aaron Sele because of questions about the soundness of his shoulder. Sele signed with the Seattle Mariners and went a combined 32-15 in 2000 and 2001.

Now Sele likely will miss the rest of the season with a partially torn rotator cuff, and the Anaheim Angels are on the hook for $16.5 million over the final two years of the three-year contract he signed last winter.

Vindication? Not exactly.

The Orioles signed Scott Erickson to a rich contract extension in the same time frame and lost him for an extended period to a severe elbow injury.

Pitchers and long-term contracts have always been an iffy proposition.

Angelos merely did a favor for the Mariners, who signed Sele to a more realistic two-year deal and got more than their money's worth.

Climbing the list

Arizona Diamondbacks ace Randy Johnson moved past Bert Blyleven into fourth place on baseball's all-time strikeout list on Wednesday night. The Big Unit has 3,705 strikeouts and has passed five pitchers on the all-time list this season.

The other four - Walter Johnson (3,509), Gaylord Perry (3,534), Don Sutton (3,574) and Tom Seaver (3,640) - are in the Hall of Fame. Blyleven has been passed over his first five years on the ballot.

"He [Blyleven] was still playing when I first came up," Johnson said.

"Recently, I've seen some old footage of him. I've seen the curveball he had. It was phenomenal. It was unbelievable. That's unfortunate [that Blyleven is not in the Hall]. Just a phenomenal pitcher, though."

Astros ace

Houston Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt was named National League Pitcher of the Month for his 6-0 record and 1.22 ERA in August, but he's no one-month wonder.

Since arriving in the majors last year, he's 32-9 and has the fourth-highest winning percentage (.780) in the major leagues. The only pitchers who have won at a higher clip over the past two years are Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson.

Oswalt is 9-1 in his past 11 starts and is the biggest reason that the Astros are still in contention in the National League Central.

"Hopefully, we can keep it up this month," he said. "This month is what's really going to count as far as getting us in the playoffs."

Quote of the week

Mariners second baseman Bret Boone, on his bad start this year: "I didn't dig a hole; I dug a well. If I have a mediocre month somewhere in the first half, I'm hitting .250. I didn't have a mediocre month."

Boone has bounced back in the second half. He entered Friday hitting .270 and figures to finish the season with more than 25 home runs and 100 RBIs.

Not exactly the career year he had in 2001, but nothing to complain about, either.

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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