- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 31, 2009

ON THE WAY UP

Suddenly, it’s fun to be a Baltimore Orioles fan again. Or at least it’s something you don’t have to hide from the neighbors.

The Orioles’ five-game winning streak going into Saturday night’s game might be an aberration, but then again, maybe not. A talented, entertaining ballclub appears to be hatching before our eyes. There will be growing pains, but the fundamentals look strong. In the meantime, hope and optimism has displaced despair and gloom. Nationals fans would gladly take this.

Three days after the smallest crowd in Camden Yards history, nearly 43,000 showed up Friday. Many came to witness the long-awaited arrival of catcher Matt Wieters. No one expected to see Luke Scott hit two home runs in his second straight game. After coming back from a shoulder injury, Scott homered five times in his first three games, including a grand slam Friday.

It was the first time an Orioles player had pulled a double-double since Albert Belle in 2000. You remember Albert, or Joey, or whatever he felt like calling himself on a particular day. He was scary to pitchers and to people in general — surly, moody and unpredictable. Belle and his five-year, $65 million contract (which the Orioles largely escaped when he retired because of an injury after just two years) typified the misguided thinking that fueled a decline in performance and attendance since 1997, the last time the team had a winning record.

But team president Andy MacPhail has stuck to his plan of fiscal restraint and building from within since he arrived two years ago. One example is Scott, who was part of last year’s deal for the high-priced, steroid-tainted Miguel Tejada. It was a shrewd, cost-effective pickup.

Adam Jones, traded by Seattle for costly pitcher Erik Bedard, is a budding star at 23. Recent call-up Nolan Reimold looks good. Nick Markakis is good, and now Wieters is here. A bunch of kid pitchers already appear to be an upgrade. Veterans such as Brian Roberts, Melvin Mora, Aubrey Huff and Scott add seasoning. Manager Dave Trembley, a calming presence, has the kind of knowledge and patience gleaned from spending a lifetime in the minors.

Some cautionary notes, however: The Orioles are a work in progress. The American League East is a beast, and the pitching still bears close watching.

But good things are happening. Finally.

HE SAID WHAT?

“He’s the same manager he was two years ago. So we realize that ultimately we’re the reason he got fired.” — Colorado first baseman Todd Helton on former manager Clint Hurdle

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