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Orioles have another long season ahead of them

April 08, 2004|by ANDY MASON

andrewm@herald-mail.com

As a longtime Orioles fan, I only allowed myself to be slightly intoxicated by Baltimore's opening-night win over Pedro Martinez and the Boston Red Sox on Sunday.

Coming off a long, baseball-less winter, it's hard not to get excited about the results of one game, especially coming on the heels of the NCAA basketball tournaments. In March Madness, each contest means everything.

But the reality of Major League Baseball is that a team could lose all of its games in April and May and still not be mathematically eliminated from the title hunt. A 162-game season is an awfully long stretch.

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Still, I couldn't help myself Sunday night. When Javy Lopez took Pedro deep to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead in the second inning, I was ready to purchase my playoff tickets. Four batters later, Baltimore led 3-0 and I was thinking World Series.

OK, I was dreaming. But all dreams have to start somewhere, and with newcomers Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro and Lopez in the batting lineup and Sidney Ponson on the mound, anything seems possible for these Birds. Combine that with Arctic-like conditions and a packed house of frenzied fans, and Camden Yards had all the makings of October baseball Sunday.

I was so jacked up, I could barely keep the blanket over me on the couch as I watched the game on TV.

With summer rapidly approaching, I shouldn't be needing that blanket for much longer, except to maybe bury my head as I crank up the air conditioning to cool off my frustrations.

After Ponson, the remainder of the Orioles' pitching rotation began the season with a combined 30 starts in the majors. By the time Eric DuBose, Kurt Ainsworth, Matt Riley and Erik Bedard get comfortable with their new, regular duties, they probably will be worn down by the long season.

It's the same problem the young Birds of recent years have had. Come August, body parts are packed in ice and attention spans are in dire need of Ritalin.

Orioles people keep talking about the return of The Oriole Way. If that's a one-way street heading up, I think Baltimore finally might be on it. But if it's the expressway to the playoffs, the Orioles still need to log on to MapQuest.com.

One of their most recent wrong turns was with Jason Johnson, whom they had us hold high hopes for through his ups and downs the last few years, before letting him go this past off-season. Monday, Johnson out-pitched 2003 Cy Young winner Roy Halladay as Detroit blanked Toronto.

An experienced arm like Johnson could make all the difference in Baltimore this year, which has all the makings for another season I probably will look forward to forgetting.

But, then again, every season is filled with surprises. And they don't call it "Oriole Magic" for nothing.

I suppose I shouldn't let these two early losses against highly touted Boston complete the vanishing act for me already. The Easter Bunny hasn't even arrived yet. Maybe the Orioles can trap him in their hat.




Andy Mason is assistant sports editor of The Morning Herald. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2334, or by e-mail at andrewm@herald-mail.com

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