Olson, always the perfectionist, downplays setting save record

September 28, 1990|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,Evening Sun Staff

CLEVELAND -- On the night he broke the club save record, it was typical of Orioles reliever Gregg Olson to say he was disappointed with the way he pitched this year.

Olson, 23, is perhaps the most single-minded of the Orioles' second-year players, and the record was one of his two main goals. The other was to improve on his 1989 season, and he says he did not.

Manager Frank Robinson disagrees, insisting Olson has been "excellent," but the All-Star closer was decidedly melancholy after earning his 35th save last night to break the record set by Don Aase in 1986.

"I wanted to improve on last year, all aspects," Olson explained. "But I guess I put too high expectations on myself. I'm kind of disappointed with the way I performed. I didn't achieve my goals.

"I had a long slump in the middle of the season, and I'm going through a long one now. I'm not going by statistics alone. I'm just saying my goal was to have a better year. I personally don't think I have."

Maybe his mood had something to do with his inning of work in last night's 5-3 victory over Cleveland. As usual, Olson did it the hard way, allowing a run on three straight one-out hits. "They gave me a three-run lead," he said, "and I used it."

"When has it been easy?" Robinson asked. "Pick one out for me. I'm sure he's had one, but I can't remember it. It gets lost in all the other ones. I guess he feels better when it gets a little tougher out there."

Still, Robinson was adamant about Olson's 1990 performance, the best by a reliever in the Orioles' 37-year history. "We've won 72 games, and he's saved 35 and won five," he said. "That's an excellent year. I don't care what anyone says."

Olson finished 5-2 last year with 27 saves and a 1.69 ERA. He has three more losses and a 2.48 ERA this year, but he pitched six weeks with a sore right elbow before taking a week off. The injury clearly hindered his performance.

He held opponents to a .168 average through Aug. 18, but in 14 appearances since then, the opposition has batted .361. Still, he has converted all but five save chances, and 62 of 73 (85 percent) for his career.

What a disappointment. Olson is the guy who had a streak of 41 scoreless innings that spanned two seasons. And Olson is the youngest pitcher in major-league history to earn 30 saves.

Granted, he has allowed one fewer hit (56) in 12 1/3 fewer innings this year, but that's understandable for someone who pitched nearly half a season at less than 100 percent.

Robinson said Olson can reach the "mid-40s" in saves under the right conditions. Until this year, the single-season record was 46. The Chicago White Sox's Bobby Thigpen has broken it with 55.

"That's unbelievable," Olson said. "I'm happy I've had a good year, the way everyone was talking at the beginning about a sophomore jinx. It could be worse."

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