Barring a dramatic change in their thinking, the Baltimore Orioles will dismiss Manager Ray Miller at the end of the season. Team officials declined to comment on the matter today, but Miller's departure is such a certainty that owner Peter Angelos and General Manager Frank Wren have already assembled a list of potential replacements, according to sources familiar with their thinking.
Former Milwaukee Brewers manager Phil Garner appears to be at the top of that list, but the Orioles will interview "three or four" candidates before making a decision, sources said.
Miller -- 145-159 in two seasons -- will be dismissed after a second consecutive season in which the Orioles fell quickly out of contention despite one of the highest payrolls in baseball.
"I haven't even thought about it," Miller said. "I leave that up to you guys."
Despite the overall disappointment, the Orioles won their fifth straight game this afternoon by defeating the Seattle Mariners, 4-2, in front of 47,903 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Left-hander Doug Johns (5-3), subbing for injured Mike Mussina, allowed two runs in eight innings, and the victory got the Orioles within 10 games of .500 at 66-76. They trail the first-place New York Yankees by 19 1/2 games in the American League East.
Third baseman Cal Ripken had two more hits today and needs 20 hits in the final 20 games to become the 24th player in major league history with 3,000 hits. And rookie center fielder Eugene Kingsale continued a favorable audition by singling three times, including a tiebreaking two-run hit in the eighth.
Regarding the front office changes, Angelos was unavailable to comment and Wren declined comment. When Miller was hired to replace Davey Johnson two years ago, he signed a two-year contract with an option for a third season. The Orioles must make a decision on the option within 72 hours after the season.
As for Wren, who has two years remaining on a three-year, $1.65 million deal signed last winter, he appears set to return for a second season.
Angelos told some associates earlier this season he was leaning toward dismissing both Wren and Miller, but in recent weeks Angelos and Wren have had several lengthy discussions about potential moves for the 2000 season.
Wren, highly regarded in baseball circles, may have regained the owner's confidence with a series of moves that have replenished the minor league system and seem to have the Orioles on the road to recovery after back-to-back losing seasons. Not only did he acquire young pitchers in the Harold Baines and Juan Guzman trades, he traded for right-hander Jason Johnson during spring training. Wren also supervised what appears to be a successful draft and has spent around $8 million in signing bonuses to get the organization's first 13 draft choices under contract.
Wren and Angelos have just begun to map out a blueprint for next season, but with so many veterans signed to long-term contracts, the offseason may not bring a dramatic roster overhaul. Instead, the Orioles hope Kingsale can take over for Brady Anderson in center field and that Jerry Hairston will be the full-time second baseman even though veteran Delino DeShields is signed for two more seasons. Anderson, who is having one of his best offensive seasons, could be shifted to designated hitter.
Regarding the pitching staff, the Orioles hope to have veterans Mussina and Scott Erickson with three youngsters -- Johnson, Matt Riley and Sidney Ponson. Wren will also be shopping for bullpen help and perhaps an additional starting pitcher.
However, Johns showed again today he could be in the mix next season. He allowed only one base runner to reach scoring position in the first five innings and didn't allow a hit until the sixth. He was hurt when Mike Blowers tagged him for a two-run home run in the seventh.
"I was trying to mix it up and throw strikes," Johns said. "Once I had a 2-0 lead, I didn't want to walk anyone. I just left the 3-2 pitch up for the home run."
The Orioles got Johns a two-run lead in the first inning against rookie Freddy Garcia (14-8). Mike Bordick drew a one-out walk and was forced at second by B.J. Surhoff. Albert Belle doubled to score Surhoff, then came home on Jeff Conine's single, making it 2-0.
After losing the lead in the seventh, the Orioles got it back in the bottom of the eighth on Kingsale's third hit, which raised his average to .313.
"I'm just relaxed and having fun," Kingsale said. "I'm trying not to worry about anything that might happen after this season. I feel blessed just to be here."
Orioles Notes: With eight straight 100-RBI seasons, Belle joins a list that includes only Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx. . . .
Miller originally had Anderson hitting leadoff, but he telephoned saying he was sick. Miller then wrote in DeShields, who told him he couldn't play because his strained groin muscle was still sore. . . . Johns's eight innings were his most since 1996 when he was with the Oakland Athletics.