By Louis Berney
The vagaries of fate and the vulnerability of the human body have conspired to accomplish what American League catchers had failed to do: keep Oriole runners from committing grand larceny on the base paths.
Oriole speedsters and base burglars -- notably, Brian Roberts, Corey Patterson, David Newhan, and Luis Matos -- combined to open the season by pulling off 20 consecutive steals without being thrown out. That broke the existing Major League record of 19 consecutive thefts to begin a season, set by the 1987 Chicago Cubs.
With Brian Roberts, David Newham and Luis Matos on the DL, Corey Patterson is the only speedy baserunner the Orioles have.
Coming into this week, the Orioles were second in the American League in bases stolen. But they might not keep that status very long. It's hard to swipe sacks when three-fourths of your speed contingent is on the disabled list.
First Newhan, perhaps the team's quickest base runner, fractured his right fibula while stealing second base. He went on the DL April 18, had surgery two days later, and will be lost to the team for at least two months.
On April 19 Matos followed Newhan to the disabled list with inflammation of the right shoulder.
The biggest blow to the team and its running game came on April 30, when Roberts, the Orioles' All-Star second baseman, went on the DL a day after suffering a hip flexor injury and straining a groin muscle. Ironically -- or perhaps not -- Roberts' injury occurred, like Newhan's, while he was successfully stealing a base.
What was not ironic, and in fact may be ominous, is that literally moments after Roberts hurt himself swiping third, the Orioles' consecutive steals streak came to an end. Luis Terrero, called up to fill the outfield gap caused by Newhan and Matos' visit to the DL, was tossed out attempting to steal third.
"It hurts us," Perlozzo lamented, when asked how the loss of Roberts, Newhan and Matos, would impact the club's running game. Those three players accounted for almost two-thirds of the Orioles' 83 stolen bases in 2005.
"We need the rest of the offense to pick up some of the slack," added Perlozzo.
Some of that slack, especially for the running game, will have to come from the 26-year-old Patterson.
The former Cub outfielder, picked up in a winter trade for two minor leaguers, has had a most curious start to his Oriole career.
Expected by club officials to be the regular starting center fielder this year, Patterson was pitiful during the first two weeks of the season. He went 1-for-15 with one RBI and nary an extra-base hit. He lost his starter's job until the injuries to Matos and Newhan gave Perlozzo no choice but to reinsert him into the lineup.
He whiffed at so many horrible pitches that his bat could have created a tsunami. But then, he suddenly turned into the Corey Patterson whom the Cubs once had touted as their next superstar.
In his next eight games, the fleet centerfielder went 12-for-29 (.414) with three home runs, nine RBIs and four steals. Patterson helped ignite the sluggish Oriole offense with a nice combination of speed and power. In a couple of games he even pulled off the neat feat of bunting for a base hit and also hitting a homerun.
The problem is, with Roberts, Matos, and Newhan sidelined, the Orioles are a slow team, notwithstanding Patterson's swiftness.
It's tough for one or two players to spearhead a running game--Melvin Mora also has speed in his spikes--when a lineup is clogged with ramblers like Javy Lopez, Jeff Conine, Ramon Hernandez, Kevin Millar, and Jay Gibbons.
Patterson's speed alone still might be able to kindle a rally and force opponents into making errors. But the Orioles are going to have trouble running themselves to victory with so many of their fastest men out of the dugout over the coming weeks.
Issue 1.2: May 4, 2006