Hanging together

You see games like this, and you wonder how they're as close to .500 as they are. Then you remember - wow, they are.

The Orioles caught the Sunday Flu again yesterday - either that, or the Overmatched Rotation Flu, or the Busted Bullpen Flu. Or, for a nice change of pace, the Sun in the Eyes Flu.


Actually, this time it was all of the above, plus an unwelcome case of the Texas Rangers remembering how thunderous their bats can be. The result at Camden Yards yesterday - a 15-7 loss that briefly made one check the calendar for the anniversary of 30-3 (it's not for two more weeks) - was something that has been sprinkled throughout the Orioles' schedule all season. Some meltdown or another, usually on the mound, leading to an exasperating defeat.

Yet, in spite of all those similar-looking losses, the Orioles are still just four games under .500. Even after a grueling nine-game road trip - on which they won five times - and a home series in which they gave the Rangers just one run in the first two games.


Approaching August's midway point - and the final six weeks of the season, in which 26 of their 39 games are at home - the Orioles are so close to a winning record, they can practically smell it. And they're not close to respectability, they're already there. Even the embarrassment of yesterday could have been a whole lot worse, and all things considered, had its positive moments.

There's the way they stuck up for each other, for one. Dave Trembley wasn't happy in any way either with Chris Waters' pitching or Alex Cintron's glovework, but he made a point to be honest while not being harsh or cruel. With Cintron, in fact, he was downright diplomatic, although what he did say - "I've seen him have better days" - he said through clenched teeth.

Trembley has had to do this more than a few times after ugly starts and exasperating fundamental blunders. It has served him and the team well. It's one reason the Orioles stubbornly avoid lengthy losing streaks as often as they do.

Meanwhile, no one had a negative word to say about Waters, brilliant in his debut last week in Los Angeles but seemingly in over his head yesterday. Obviously, he didn't pitch well and made a couple of mistakes to the wrong hitters, and even he admitted he was "a little rattled" after Cintron dropped a pop-up on the game's first pitch.

However, Brian Roberts chose to focus on the way he and his teammates saved Waters from a loss and nearly set him up for a win. Down 4-0 before they ever got to the plate, the Orioles went ahead 5-4 in the third, then tied it at 6 in the fourth. The bullpen was a far greater culprit on this day than Waters.

Besides, who can possibly argue that the Orioles got far more from Waters than they had bargained for, not just last week, but in both starts combined?

As for the Rangers, Roberts said: "You can't hold a team like that down forever. We had a couple of bad breaks. You lose a ball in the sun in the first inning, it could be a different game." Nice pickup on Cintron, too, who is only the latest symptom of the Orioles' Underwhelming Shortstop Flu.

Of course, Roberts could afford to be generous. He was 4-for-4 with a walk and scored three times.This is just the continuation of two weeks of extremely productive hitting, particularly from Roberts, Melvin Mora and Aubrey Huff. If the bullpen had done anything better than, it seemed, lob it underhand in the late innings, they might have swept this series.


Roberts also gave some love to the guys who gave the Orioles the series win with gutty showings in the first two games, Jeremy Guthrie and Daniel Cabrera. How could you not? And how could you not cut the team some slack for the ugliness of yesterday after dominating that lineup the previous two nights?

"It's just one out of three," Mora said after his 3-for-4, four-RBI day. "That's not bad."

And after another lousy Sunday, after another Rangers samba line around the bases, after another cast of thousands on the mound ... the Orioles are four games under .500.

That's not bad, either.

Listen to David Steele on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).