- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2000


BALTIMORE Two team photos are all that is necessary to categorize the Baltimore Orioles' season one of the graying Orioles before the housecleaning and another of the fresh-faced youngsters that now dominate the roster.

From July 28 to July 31, the Orioles slashed $30 million off the payroll by unloading high-salaried veterans for a collection of minor leaguers and prospects. And the new-look Orioles closed the season yesterday with a three-game sweep of the World Series champion New York Yankees.

Yesterday's 7-3 victory gave the Orioles a 31-31 record since the first trade July 28 that sent All-Star shortstop Mike Bordick to the New York Mets. The Orioles were 43-57 at that point.

First baseman Chris Richard, one of those late July acquisitions, showed why the Orioles have some optimism heading into spring training. Richard went 3-for-4, including his 13th home run, before a sellout crowd of 47,831 at Camden Yards. The American League East champion Yankees will enter the postseason having lost seven in a row and 15 of their last 18.

Richard's two-run shot gave the Orioles a 5-1 lead in the third inning as they swept the Yankees in a three-game series for the first time since 1991.

Orioles starter Jose Mercedes (14-7) allowed two runs over five innings. Mercedes is the only Orioles starter this season with a winning record.

The Orioles (74-88) finished the season fourth in the AL East, 13 1/2 games behind the Yankees (87-74), despite winning eight of their final 11 games.

"Certainly there is a lot of work still to be done," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "I think we've taken some very good positive steps this year to give us a shot at getting this thing back where we want it to be and it should be and will be."

That's going to require finding some pitching. The Orioles had one of the highest ERAs (5.38) in baseball, and pitching coach Sammy Ellis will not return. The next pitching coach the Orioles hire will be their eighth in eight seasons.

With former ace Mike Mussina becoming a free agent this winter, the Orioles are faced with a dilemma. Mussina recently turned down a six-year, $72 million contract extension. Do the Orioles sweeten the pot for Mussina or go after several less accomplished pitchers during the free-agency period?

"Very few clubs in baseball today can claim that they have a No. 1 starter on their staff," Hargrove said. "That speaks for itself. We would love to have him back, but that is down the road and if he doesn't come back, we'll survive."

The status of future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken is another decision the front office has to make. Ripken, 40, concluded this season on a tear and proved his chronically injured back is sound.

In a hastily assembled postgame news conference, Ripken said he is physically prepared to play next season his 20th but needs to sit down with Orioles owner Peter Angelos and sign a new contract.

Ripken missed 59 games this season while on the disabled list with inflammation in his lower back. After being activated Sept. 1, Ripken batted .282 (20-for-71) with seven doubles, two home runs and 12 RBI.

"Right now, my plans are to build on what I accomplished in the month of September," Ripken said. "I have plans to go to spring training and try again."

Hargrove said the major disappointment this season was the Orioles' inconsistency.

"The first half, we would win four, lose five and win six and lose four," he said. "We would put good streaks together but lose the momentum and the value of those good streaks by having four or five games in a row that we didn't win."

Notes Delino DeShields was voted Orioles MVP for the 2000 season in a media ballot. DeShields batted .296 with 10 home runs and 85 RBI, led the club with 165 hits and finished third in the AL with 37 stolen bases. DeShields belted a career-best 43 doubles to tie the second-best mark in Orioles history. Mercedes finished second in the voting… .

With his appearance in the eighth inning, Orioles reliever Buddy Groom became the first AL pitcher to appear in 70 or more games in five consecutive seasons and only the second major leaguer to accomplish that feat.

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