BALTIMORE, April 17 -- The salsa music from Miguel Tejada's locker wandered softly through the Baltimore Orioles' clubhouse, a place that had been, under strict orders, mostly kept quiet all season. Tejada, as he has done with an entire organization, brought life into a place that badly needed it.
With an 8-4 win on Sunday, the Orioles swept the New York Yankees for the first time since 2000 and are in sole possession of first place in the American League East. They have beaten the Yankees in five of the six games the teams have played this year and have won consecutive series against New York for the first time since 1997.
"Enough is enough. . . . They are not playing like true Yankees," George Steinbrenner fumed after Kevin Brown and New York fell to the O's again.
(Joe Giza -- Reuters)
On Sunday, Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts sat in the dugout with hitting coach Terry Crowley and could barely remember when the clubhouse was quiet, the Orioles were losing and Tejada was playing on the other side of the country -- might as well have been the other side of the world -- for the Oakland Athletics.
"What the heck was this team like before we had Miggy?" Roberts asked Crowley.
Roberts has contributed heavily to Baltimore's start this year, but it is Tejada who has helped change the sorry state of the franchise. With the bases loaded in the second inning, Tejada sent a drive deep over the center field wall for a 420-foot grand slam to give Baltimore a 6-0 lead. Tejada raised his hand in the air as he approached first base, then emphatically pumped his fist. In the most celebrated three-game series at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in quite some time, Tejada was magnificent, going 6 for 12 with two home runs, four runs and eight RBI.
In his first year, Tejada helped convince his Orioles teammates they weren't losers. In his second year, he has convinced them they are contenders.
"Three years ago is like a blur," Roberts said. "I don't even remember. I remember not playing well. Really having no life and almost like feeling you were going to lose every time you went out there. We don't act that way anymore. We don't feel that way anymore. And a very big majority of that is contributed to Miggy.
"He's such an awesome guy to play with. He's constantly talking, he's upbeat. He just loves to play. Honestly, I don't even remember what it was like before he was here. It's just a whole different attitude."
The Orioles so trounced the Yankees this weekend -- the three wins were by a combined score of 23-11 -- New York owner George Steinbrenner furiously sent out a news release immediately after Sunday's game.
"Enough is enough," he said. "I am bitterly disappointed, as I am sure all Yankee fans are, by the lack of performance by our team. It is unbelievable to me that the highest-paid team in baseball would start the season in such a deep funk. They are not playing like true Yankees. They have the talent to win and they are not winning. I expect Joe Torre, his complete coaching staff and the team to turn this around."
Last season the Orioles were also 8-4, but five of the wins came against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Toronto Blue Jays, teams that had a combined record of 137-185 in 2004.
Two seasons ago, the Orioles were coming off a 71-91 season, 30 games out of first place, when they decided to pursue Tejada, who had played in the playoffs in four consecutive seasons and had won a most valuable player award. The Orioles hadn't been to the playoffs since 1997, hadn't been less than 30 games out of first place since 2000 and competed in the same division as the Yankees and Boston Red Sox. With two other comparable contract offers from teams in easier divisions, Tejada chose to sign with the Orioles.
"I always believe in myself," Tejada said. "Last year we had a lot of young guys. Everybody is a year older. Right now everybody just believes. Even the fans."
The game and series ended when Tejada gloved a sharp ground ball from Alex Rodriguez and delivered it to Roberts. Immediately after the out was called, Tejada pumped his first yet again to emphasize the victory. He then approached Roberts and began a celebration that is one part hand slap, another part dance. Tejada then went to third baseman Melvin Mora and did the same thing.
"I picked Mora to do it because he is a fun guy," Tejada said. "He's a kind of guy like me."
This team, because of Tejada, now has rhythm.