Mike Boddicker might not know where he'll be next year, but he knows where he's pitching now -- in a pennant race. It's the kind of atmosphere he relishes.
"It's fun," said the master of deception. "It's good for everybody -- us and the fans."
The Orioles can remember, though it takes some memory searching, because it was only a year ago that they were in the same spot the Boston Red Sox currently occupy -- trying to hold off (or catch) the Toronto Blue Jays.
Last night it was up to Boddicker to keep the Red Sox competitive until Ben McDonald's control unraveled to the tune of five runs. He did it the usual way, with a routine only a handful of pitchers can even visualize.
This is a guy who seems to invent pitches and release points as he goes along. He has a trademark on the "fosh ball," more deliveries than a neighborhood pizza parlor, and the imagination to pull everything together.
Boddicker only smiled, probably to conceal a laugh, when asked if his best pitch of the night was the last one he threw. It was something between a sidearm and underhand breaking ball that caught Cal Ripken looking at a disputed third strike to end the sixth inning with a runner on base and Boston leading 5-3.
"That was my Dan Quisenberry slider," Boddicker said of the pitch that almost defied gravity as it floated toward the plate. "It was a borderline pitch, but it was a nice out."
Especially since Boddicker knew he'd reached his limit. He didn't return for the seventh inning, giving way to Larry Anderson and Jeff Gray, who finished off the untidy win that broke Boston's four-game losing streak.
"I knew that was it," said Boddicker. "Actually, I was surprised to pitch to him [Ripken]."
Probably not as surprised as Ripken, when he saw the pitch that ended the inning. "It just popped into my head," Boddicker said when asked what made him throw the pitch.
"I just said to myself, 'Junior's never seen this one, so let's give it a try.' He was fouling off everything I threw him -- curveballs away, fastballs inside. I was afraid if I just laid one in there he'd hit it.
"I don't care what anybody says about the year he's having, Cal can go up and hammer you," said Boddicker. "He's the guy who scares you. I wasn't going to let him beat me."
Boddicker (16-8), who won 10 in a row earlier in the year, has won five straight (over six starts) and has stepped up as a stopper with Roger Clemens on the sideline. But he downplayed his role, the fact that he's second to Clemens with 208 2/3 innings pitched, and even his performance last night (seven hits, three runs in six innings).
"I'm supposed to do that, it's what I get paid for," said Boddicker, who now leads the Red Sox with 31 starts. "They scored some runs for me, and the bullpen was the key. It wasn't a pretty performance -- I was mediocre at best out there.
"Other guys pitched as good or better than I did in Chicago and we came out with four losses. We didn't score a lot of runs, but we didn't play real bad. They [the White Sox] just 'dorked' us to death. They got some ugly runs. Greg Harris pitched a great game and gave up five runs -- but it happens. It's happened to me, it's happened to everybody. You just have to let them know they pitched a good game."
What the Red Sox went through over the weekend -- finding a way to lose -- is what the Orioles have been going through most of the season -- especially in recent weeks. But Boddicker can't see, or at least won't admit, the difference between this club and the one that chased Toronto until the next to last day of the season a year ago.
"That's baseball," he said, "Teams slide from one year to the next. I was over there when it was a lot worse than this. And if you go back to spring training, you wouldn't find many people who thought we'd be where we are today. They underestimated a lot of people."
Boddicker was with the Orioles when they lost 21 straight to start the 1988 season, and was traded near the end of the year at least partially because of his impending free agency.
Now, three years later, free agency is a possibility after this season. Reportedly he and the Red Sox have agreed on length of a contract (three years), but are far apart when it comes to dollars. He would seem to fit the mold of a pitcher the Orioles have said they'd like to have -- a veteran who is a proven winner and could help their young staff.
Boddicker seemed skeptical of the possibility. "I don't think they'd make a bid [if he were a free agent]," he said. "I don't think they could [after having traded him in the midst of a rebuilding program].
"But I really don't know. I don't know what's going to happen, I don't know where I'll be," he said with a shrug.
Right now, Mike Boddicker is right where he wants to be -- in the middle of a pennant race. For now, having fun in September is enough.