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Steady As She Goes

May 20, 2008

Trembley's even hand is keeping Orioles on early winning course

By Craig Heist

The 2008 edition of the Baltimore Orioles is one of this year's pleasant surprises in baseball. Nowhere has a team's plus-.500 record and competitive play been more welcome and needed than in this city.

Fans had begun to lose all hope after 10 long years of losing baseball. A seemingly endless procession of general managers and skippers did nothing to salve the empty  stomachs of O’s fans.

A little more than a year ago, with yet another losing team on the field, a locker room in disarray and a fan base growing restless, owner Peter Angelos hired Andy MacPhail, a man who grew up in Baltimore while his father Lee ran the Orioles in the early '60s.

MacPhail came into Baltimore and did nothing to put Orioles fans at ease about the task at hand, aside from rolling up his sleeves and getting to work. At his first press conference, MacPhail talked about the need to have a defining personality for his team. Since then he has worked to get smarter, younger, cheaper and ultimately more competitive players in Orioles uniforms.

Fans know the product on the field this season is not the end result of MacPhail's efforts. Rather, it is an exciting first draft by a consummate team leader.

Now as spring turns to summer in Charm City, the end of a long trip in baseball’s desert seems to be in sight, and Birdland is in bloom.

***

Steady As She Goes: Trembley's even hand is keeping Orioles on early winning course

After enduring 10 straight losing seasons and heading into this year with the type of team that many "experts" said would be one of baseball’s worst, the Orioles have become one of the early surprises of this baseball season.

It’s a team that, at least for now, has learned how to play together. Players don’t let things that go wrong affect them, and they don’t get too carried away when things are going well.

The O's went through a five-game losing streak between Anaheim and Oakland at the beginning of their last road trip. They then turned around and took three of four in Kansas City. The turnaround came at a point when a lot of people were questioning their good start and thinking the losing streak might be the beginning of the end -- or just more of what fans in Baltimore have become accustomed to seeing.

There are several factors that have made the difference between this year and last for the club. There is a new attitude and, more importantly, new direction under manager Dave Trembley.

“For me, what started it was the attitude we tried to instill in spring training and the start of the season here,” Trembley said. “An attitude of be positive, be patient, be persistent, stay with it. Only do what you can do. Don’t get out of your lane, and don’t get yourself to a point where you can’t accomplish the team concepts.”

Trembley has been preaching his team concept since taking over for Sam Perlozzo 11 months ago. The biggest one: There is no "I" in team.

Last season, Trembley reportedly instructed shortstop Miguel Tejada to take batting practice on the field. Tejada had already hit in the cage and didn’t think he needed to take swings with the rest of the team. Trembley told the veteran shortstop to participate.

If Tejada didn’t like the message Trembley was sending, he didn't have to worry about it for long. The shortstop was dealt in the offseason to the Houston Astros in exchange for outfielder Luke Scott, third baseman Mike Costanzo and pitchers Matt Albers, Troy Patton and Dennis Sarfate.

The club also traded its top pitcher, Erik Bedard, to the Mariners for five players. Center fielder Adam Jones, along with left-handed reliever George Sherrill and minor league pitchers Chris Tillman, Kam Mickolio and Tony Butler, all came over in the trade orchestrated by president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail.

“We were pretty up front with everyone,” MacPhail said. “The fans and the media and the other teams we were dealing with all knew that we were interested in trying to find a deal where we could help someone win now, and they could help us win later in the future.

"It’s been somewhat of a pleasant development that we have been able to win more in the now part than we anticipated. But you know it’s a long season, and there is a lot that can happen, but clearly at this point we think we have helped our long-term future, and we haven’t necessarily done it at the expense of our short-term team.”

As the Orioles began this week in New York facing the Yankees, the team was in third place in the American League East with a record of 23-20, just three games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox and a game and a half behind the Tampa Bay Rays.

Of the 10 players acquired in those trades, five have had an immediate impact on the early success of the club. 

Sherrill is 1-0 with 17 saves. Jones is hitting just .247 with two homers and 11 RBIs. Sarfate has been solid out of the bullpen with a 2-1 record and an ERA of 4.32 in 17 appearances. Albers is also 2-1 and has pitched to an ERA of 2.15. Luke Scott has proven to be a solid bat in the lineup, hitting .279 with three home runs and 14 RBIs.

“They have done well,” MacPhail said. “There is a nice balance. We have gotten some guys who are contributing right now, and we are confident we have some guys who are going to contribute in the future. At the same time, I think Seattle and Houston are going to be delighted by the years the players that we sent over there are going to give them.”

The Orioles have shown a knack for coming from behind in games. The team has a league-leading 11 wins when trailing by at least two runs and has already won three times  when trailing after eight innings. During the last homestand that ended Sunday, the Orioles beat Boston twice after being down 3-0 and rallied twice to beat the Nationals after getting behind 2-0.

“I think there are a couple of things,” Trembley said. “First, there is no panic. And two, there’s confidence. And there is a sense of being able to control what you can and what you can’t control, and once it's over, don’t carry it with you, and don’t worry about it.

“I think what has helped is that there are so many guys here that have played for a while. They know what it takes, and all they needed was some direction. That’s how I see it. All they needed was some direction and some constant reminders of how to do things.”

For Trembley, that meant sending the right message to all players -- rookies, younger guys and veterans. That message emphasized that there is no reason why they can’t win now.

“When you talk about the team, I think you talk about the organization as well,” he said. “I think from a standpoint of both, I think what we have done is establish an identity -- a foundation for how we are going to do things and a philosophy of the importance of pitching. I think that has been carried through probably a little bit quicker than a lot of people expected.”

While MacPhail may be a little surprised at what his team has accomplished so far, he is not surprised about Trembley’s positive attitude or the job he has done.

“I thought he did a good job during the course of last year,” MacPhail said. “I know his dedication for the game, his respect for the game, his understanding the importance that we work on the fundamentals regardless of the level we are at.


Dave Trembley (Mitch Stringer/PressBox

"Those things aren’t a surprise. The fact that he has been successful isn’t a surprise, or we wouldn’t have hired him. He’s really doing a tremendous job and it's something we are grateful for and we recognize, but I don’t think it would be appropriate to say you are surprised by it.

“Obviously, the players on the field are the ones who make it happen, but Dave certainly has set the tone. It's been a great tone for us -- one that I think for us is entirely appropriate -- and he has done a tremendous job, insuring the best he can, that we play with the type of energy that we are capable of.”

Issue 3.21: May 22, 2008