The Orioles were not making themselves contenders in the off-season, they were making themselves invincible. They added Roberto Alomar. And Randy Myers, B.J. Surhoff, David Wells and Kent Mercker. And let's not forget manager Davey Johnson.
"Break up the Orioles" was the cry in the American League East before the season even began.
Who would have guessed that 100 games later general manager Pat Gillick would consider breaking up the Orioles on his own.
Last weekend, Gillick said an upcoming seven-game homestand would determine whether Baltimore would make a run for the post-season or consider an overhaul. So inspired by this prospect, the Orioles went out and lost five straight.
"I don't know why, but we don't have the same fire, the same look in the eye, we had at the beginning of the season," said Alomar, who earned two World Series rings with Toronto. "I don't know. This is one of the best ballclubs I've ever been on.
"Maybe the best."
It is doubtful Gillick will completely scrap the 1996 season. Though Baltimore may be nearing extinction in the AL East race, the wild card remains within reach.
Still, the GM is prepared to re-tool. He has been shopping Bobby Bonilla for a month but has been underwhelmed by offers for the moody slugger.
And last week he traded Mercker, a promising left-handed pitcher, for Eddie Murray, a grumpy 40-year-old first baseman.
The move may not make sense from a talent standpoint, but the Orioles already have tried stockpiling talent. Now they seem interested in re-charging personalities in a glum clubhouse.
Johnson lit into the team after a loss to Minnesota on Wednesday. "I got some things off my chest," he said. "We're not doing the little things that good teams do. We're not getting it done _ and we'd better start."
GOING-OUT-OF-CONTENTION SALE: With the trade deadline looming Wednesday night, several teams are looking to unload high salaries. Mike Greenwell, Jamie Moyer and Kevin Mitchell are available in Boston, Dave Burba and Mark Portugal in Cincinnati, Benito Santiago in Philadelphia, Rod Beck in San Francisco and Greg Vaughn in Milwaukee.
NICE PLACE TO START: Looking for a reason the Cardinals overcame a 17-26 start that had them in last place in the NL Central? How about this: Starting pitchers threw five innings or more in 58 of their next 60 games. That's key, because the St. Louis bullpen had blown 17 of 41 save opportunities as of Saturday.
KRYPTONITE WOULD HELP: Pointing out that Ken Griffey Jr. was hitting around .300, Angels manager Marcel Lachemann said his pitchers should not be terrified. "You can't say: "This is Superman, we're not going to pitch to him,' " he said. "If it was Superman, he probably hits about .500." When asked why only .500, Lachemann said: "You change speeds on him. Mix it up a little." Griffey hit .500 (8-for-16) with 14 RBI in the four-game series with the Angels.
HIT PARADE: He's overlooked amid the sluggers in the Seattle lineup, but Paul Sorrento is turning into one of the bargains of the season. Signed for $1-million, the Pinellas County resident went into the weekend hitting .311 with 17 home runs and 61 RBI.
STRIKE TWO, YOU'RE OUT: Toronto's Erik Hanson could have sworn the count was full on Cleveland's Jim Thome, but umpire Mike Everitt said it was ball four. Because no one else argued, Hanson as-sumed his own counting was wrong. The next batter, Albert Belle, hit a bases-loaded double to drive in three runs in Cleveland's 4-2 victory. Hanson had been right, but the only other person to know was Thome, and he wasn't complaining. "I knew it was ball three," Thome said. "I'm not arguing, especially with a guy like Albert behind me."
HANGING ON: The hardest-throwing relievers at the the start of the decade are continuing their comebacks from brief retirements. Mitch Williams was promoted from the Phillies' Class A team in Clearwater to the Triple-A club in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday. Former Reds star Rob Dibble is throwing batting practice for the Marlins, trying to rehabilitate a bad shoulder.
TOLD YOU SO: Paul Wagner's elbow surgery will keep him out until mid-1997, but the Pirate feels vindicated after manager Jim Leyland questioned his heart. "Maybe I don't have the pain tolerance of a Navy SEAL, but it's been obvious for a long time that my arm hasn't been 100 percent," Wagner said.
_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.