The start of baseball's all-star break tonight finds the Baltimore Orioles dead in the water -- dead as in 10 games out of first place and on pace for an 85-victory season.
So much for dreams and blueprints and the magic of a little man named Earl Weaver.
His Orioles finished the pre-break portion of their schedule this afternoon with Joel Skinner hitting a three-run homer and Neil Allen pitching a five-hitter to lead the Chicago White Sox to a 7-0 rout before 23,011 at Comiskey Park.
Not only do the Orioles (46-41) find themselves in fourth place in the American League East and well behind in the pennant race, they are without designated hitter Larry Sheets (.311, nine homers, 37 RBI), first baseman Eddie Murray (.294, 11, 52) and pitcher Storm Davis (6-8, 3.33 ERA).
All are injured, and there's no indication any will be ready when play resumes Thursday. Further, reliever Tippy Martinez, who has appeared in only 14 games, is headed to the disabled list for the third time this season and probably done for the year.
Backed into a corner, emotionally if not physically, Weaver resorted to anger, sarcasm and, finally, poetry today.
The sarcasm: "If Boston wins today, we'll probably win the pennant."
The anger: The Orioles' manager stepped from the clubhouse shower and, with a mixture of humor and bile, yelled to his players, "We were so awful today. We can't be worse than that."
The poetry: "It's always darkest before the storm, uh, I mean dawn. It's always darkest before the dawn."
When they boarded a chartered jet to return to Baltimore tonight, the Orioles were a team close to disarray, so much so that it's not just first-place Boston's 56-31 record that has to worry them. Let the Red Sox worry about the Red Sox. The Orioles can worry about injuries and an offense that is 10th in runs in the league and has scored three or fewer a whopping 34 times.
"It's not insurmountable," center fielder Fred Lynn said. "I know it's not. I can say that better than anyone. I was on a team that had a seven-game lead on Sept. 1 and didn't win the 1978 Red Sox ."
Reminded that this year's Boston team needs to go only 44-31 to win 100 games, Lynn said, "Yeah, I think that's what we said in 1978."
If today is an indication, the second half is going to be no more fun for the Orioles than the first half.
Allen (6-1) pitched his first complete game since 1983, allowing the Orioles a double by Juan Beniquez and four singles. Allen was helped when Orioles starter Scott McGregor (6-8) lasted only two innings, allowing five hits and four runs.
Three of the runs came with one swing. With one out in the second inning, Greg Walker, Bobby Bonilla and Julio Cruz singled to score a run. McGregor then went to 1-1 on .184-hitting Skinner, and Skinner turned the third pitch around for a towering homer to left.
That made it 4-0 and, although McGregor got out of the second, Weaver brought in the first of three relievers, in this case Rich Bordi, to start the third.
"I made one bad pitch," said McGregor, who was still doing a not-so-slow burn after the game. "I guess I can't make one bad pitch because I'll be taken out of the game."
While Allen allowed only one runner to get past first base, the White Sox got two runs off Bordi and another off Martinez before Nate Snell pitched the final 1 2/3 innings.
"As I said earlier, Allen has a little more ammunition to work with now," White Sox Manager Jim Fregosi said. "He threw a couple of really good change-ups today. I think he's staying within himself better than he has since I've been here and maybe better than he ever has."
Allen caught a Baltimore team that is severely lacking in punch. In the last two games, the bottom one-third of the Orioles' batting order has gone one for 21, and Weaver has said that he'll manage differently after the all-star break.
"We're going to go with the guys who are doing the job," he said. "I don't want anyone to be able to say they didn't get a chance. From now on, the guys that are hitting will play."
"For instance, Beniquez .310 will play," he said.
That's probably bad news for Mike Young (.235) and John Shelby (.212), who have been splitting time in left field. The Orioles are especially disappointed in Young, who began the season as their next designated superstar. Instead, he has only five homers and 30 RBI.
Even last season, when he didn't start hitting well until after the all-star break, he had three more homers at this point.
"I'm going to take some time off and not think about baseball," Young said. "I hope this is a team to come back refreshed and get something going. I don't know what I'm doing wrong, but I am glad to get this break. I think a lot of others in here feel the same way."
Martinez came into the game in the sixth inning and faced eight batters before taking himself out. "He was grimacing on every pitch," Weaver said. Martinez said he felt a pain deep in his left arm, near the shoulder. "I'm going to go home and talk to my wife and the doctor and see what the best course is," he said. "I still think I can pitch, and I hope the ballclub doesn't give up on me" . . . Mike Boddicker's sore right elbow didn't improve much from his Saturday start to this afternoon, and he will miss his next scheduled turn. Instead, he'll go Sunday against Minnesota at Memorial Stadium . . . Reliever Brad Havens returned to Baltimore before today's game because of a family emergency