Many mornings and afternoons at ballparks all over the country, Baltimore Orioles Manager Ray Miller will leaf through pages of statistics, looking for answers. The Orioles were supposed to be what the Boston Red Sox are this season -- wild-card leaders, headed for the playoffs. So what do all those statistics point to as the difference between the Orioles and Red Sox?
"Bullpen," Miller said firmly, after the Orioles' 4-1 loss to the Red Sox today in front of 32,107 at Fenway Park.
The loss was just the second in the last 2 1/2 weeks for the Orioles (76-78), but it prevented them from reaching .500 for the first time since starting the season 1-1.
The difference between the Orioles and the Red Sox (89-65) -- the one that counts, anyway -- now is 13 games. But since the all-star break, the Orioles are 40-27, exactly one-half game behind the Red Sox. And as Miller is fond of pointing out, the statistical differences between the clubs are very telling.
The Orioles have scored more runs, hit for a higher average, bashed more homers, taken more walks, stolen more bases and committed fewer errors than the Red Sox. But Boston's team earned run average of 4.11 is more than a half-run better than the Orioles' (4.73). More specifically, the Red Sox bullpen's ERA (4.05) is closer to a whole run lower than the Orioles' bullpen (4.85).
Today, after retread starter Ramon Martinez (1-1) shut down the Orioles for seven innings, right-hander Rich Garces came in and smothered them, striking out four of the six batters he faced to close out the victory, which reduced to four the Red Sox' "magic" number for clinching the wild card.
"They play fundamentally sound," Miller said. "They don't have a lot of speed but they always have good at-bats. They don't seem as great as Cleveland or New York, yet they're always in good games and they score runs. They're a better functioning team than they look, I guess."
While the Orioles' bullpen has been exponentially better in the second half than it was in the first -- having blown only seven saves since the all-star break, after blowing 20 before the break -- today a trio of Orioles relievers combined to give up a key run in the eighth.
Left-hander Doug Johns walked Brian Daubach, right-hander Al Reyes drilled Nomar Garciaparra, and left-hander B.J. Ryan gave up an RBI single when second baseman Jerry Hairston couldn't knock down Scott Hatteberg's ground ball to the right side, allowing Daubach to score from second.
On top of the three solo home runs given up in six innings by starter Doug Linton (1-3), it was more than the Orioles could make up on a day they managed only four hits.
"Our offense today was the product of the last four days, if [the players] feel the same way I feel," Miller said, referring to the schedule that has taken the Orioles from Texas to Baltimore to Boston in the last 72 hours. "I didn't think [Martinez] was throwing that hard."
"We're human," Hairston said. "We've played a lot of baseball the last four days."
Martinez, who was making just his third start since shoulder surgery last season, "used to overpower people with a blazing fastball," Orioles first baseman Jeff Conine said. "Now, he's not throwing as hard, but he's eating up the outside corner."
While the Red Sox are firming up their playoff plans, the Orioles are looking to next season. At least five players were in some way auditioning for the 2000 team. Among them is Linton, who wants the fifth starter/swingman job next season.
"I want to stay here," he said. "I think I can still get better. If I can be the fifth starter here, I'd love it because I think I can work well in that role. If it is an audition, I hope I'm having a good one."
Orioles Note: Upon further review, the Orioles have decided to start 20-year-old lefty Matt Riley one more time, instead of shutting him down for the year, as they had considered. Riley, who has walked 11 batters in his two starts, will pitch Thursday at home against the Yankees. "It'll be a true test," Miller said, "because those guys don't swing at balls."