Yankees arrive, but Red Sox are why O's can't stand pat


THE CAT'S out of the bag, so let's see if the Birds get eaten alive by the cat.

What are we talking about?

We're not talking about the New York Yankees, who arrive in town today for a three-game series that's better billed as "Dawn of the Dead" than a showdown for dominance in the heavyweight division of major league baseball.

The $200 million Zombie Misfits don't appear capable of staying awake for more than an hour at a time. We're all waiting for Mount Steinbrenner to erupt, which could be by fax or announcement, as it was in April when the Orioles swept the Yankees at Camden Yards.

The only good thing for the slumping Orioles is that the inept Yankees might have as many (albeit different) problems as the Orioles when it comes to keeping up with the Red Sox - this season and beyond.

The steamrollering Red Sox (12-1 in their past lucky 13 games) took over first place Friday, and, according to comments made by chief Idiot Kevin Millar, have understandably started printing Fenway playoff tickets.

Boston in the fall has its charm, and one can almost conjure the colorful foliage along the Charles now that Curt Schilling is close to a comeback.

Schilling pitches a rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket this week and could be available to make his first start since April - you guessed it - on July 9 at Camden Yards.

As it was pointed out recently in Red Sox Nation, that July 9 game against the Orioles is on national television. Does anyone doubt that two-ring Schilling wouldn't want to announce his return to the Red Sox's rotation on just this kind of occasion?

In other words, the cat is out of the bag and the Birds are definitely poised to get eaten.

What are we talking about?

The Orioles have relinquished first place in the AL East to the defending (and surging) World Series champions and have yet to demonstrate an organizational willingness or fortitude or moxie or pocketbook to seize an opportunity.

What makes us believe the Orioles are suddenly going to start wheeling and dealing the way a contender needs to wheel and deal to stay in the hunt?

The fear factor (from this vantage point) is generated from the knowledge that the Orioles - from front office personnel down to No. 25 man on the roster - have spent three months of the season saying they don't need to remain in first place the entire season to be playoff contenders come October.

In fact, the common refrain from Orioles players and officials when asked whether it would be best for them to do whatever it took to remain in first place was:


Why trade for a first baseman when the platoon of Rafael Palmeiro and Jay Gibbons wasn't working?

Good thing Palmeiro decided to act again like the Hall of Fame player he is, otherwise the Red Sox's pickup of John Olerud would seem even more cruel and unusual than it already is.

Why not trade for an outfielder when injuries to Sammy Sosa, Luis Matos and Larry Bigbie made a curly-haired kid named Jeff Fiorentino a cult figure at Camden Yards - for about a week?

Why not go hard after a No. 1 starting pitcher like Jason Schmidt when the best-laid plan about developing young pitchers turned into 20-year-old Hayden Penn to the rescue ...


Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan caught some amazing lightning in a bottle at the start of this season. They were the rabbits of the division, riding Brian Roberts and Miguel Tejada for two months of powerful offensive production. They were the surprise of baseball the way starter Erik Bedard, reliever Todd Williams and closer B.J. Ryan headlined a pitching staff that far exceeded expectations.

However, the chemistry and confidence the team had exuded has fallen victim to injuries and a more realistic representation of its pitching staff.

Daniel Cabrera isn't ready to carry a team to the postseason. Neither is Sidney Ponson nor Rodrigo Lopez nor Bruce Chen. Bedard, though stellar until he sprained his knee six weeks ago, is still just a little more than a year into a major league career.

Likewise, the continued and unquestioned decline of Sosa is almost too much to witness, no matter how much Tejada likes having Sosa around.

Chemistry and fast starts will fade in the heat of summer - and the Orioles haven't even hit the dog days yet. Javy Lopez's return will be good for a sagging offense. Mora's, too.

But it's different now. The Orioles relinquished first place to a Red Sox team that knows how to slay dragons (Yankees) and how to retool at any cost (the Sox traded Nomar last year, didn't they?).

Get a front-line pitcher. Drop Sosa in the order. Look at left field, center field, first base, catcher and upgrade if you can.

Otherwise, it won't be Orioles officials and players asking "why" they can't contend after falling behind in the standings. It will be Birdland residents, asking how come more wasn't done to make sure a division lead - and a genuine opportunity for the postseason - was squandered.

The Yankees in town this week is one thing. Schilling and the Sox? That's something else entirely.

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