Orioles righthander Ben McDonald worked into the ninth inning for the fourth time in his last five starts and finished with a career-high nine strikeouts. So, why didn't he get the win last night?
Simple, pitching coach Al Jackson said.
McDonald didn't throw his best fastball on his first pitch to John Olerud with one out in the eighth. The pitch was on the outside corner, but Olerud pulled a two-run homer to right, giving Toronto a 2-1 lead.
The Orioles rallied for a 3-2 victory at Memorial Stadium in the last game of the season, after the Blue Jays knew they had finished second to Boston in the AL East. Gregg Olson got the final out for the win.
The crowd of 26,913 booed manager Frank Robinson for making the change, but McDonald had just given up a pair of two-out singles. He had also thrown 140 pitches, a career-high.
Olerud's 14th home run ruined his duel with Dave Stieb, but McDonald still finished with a 2.41 ERA, the lowest among American League rookies who pitched 50 or more innings.
The Orioles were 10-5 in his 15 starts, winning both his no-decisions. McDonald will be only 24 next Opening Day, but it will be a major upset if another pitcher starts for the Orioles.
The pitch to Olerud was simply part of the learning process, Jackson said. McDonald throws two types of fastballs, depending on his grip, and Jackson said he should have thrown the harder one to Olerud.
"He had an experience I wish could have happened in different circumstances," Jackson said, referring to the importance of the game for Toronto. "But I think he grew a lot.
"He threw the pitch basically where he wanted, but he let the hitter turn on it. I told him he's got too much power to let a guy pull a pitch on the outside part of the plate."
* DOOR NO. 1: The first issue the Orioles address this offseason likely will be lefthander Joe Price, who can become a free agent if the option year on his contract is not picked up by Oct. 20.
Price, 33, allowed only nine of 47 inherited runners to score, but he didn't pitch the final 17 days of the season, and the club apparently is concerned about his lingering back condition.
That problem landed Price on the 15-day disabled list from June 29 to July 15, but he pitched 32 innings after returning and finished 3-4 with a 3.58 ERA.
If they decide Price is healthy, the Orioles likely will want him back as one of their two lefthanded relievers. His salary would be $325,000 plus whatever incentives he earned this season.
"I honestly believe that I've done a good job, and I also believe that I wouldn't have a problem getting a job somewhere else," Price said. "But I would like to come back. That's all there is to it."
* DOOR NO. 2: First baseman/designated hitter Ron Kittle is the other Oriole who can become a free agent if his contract is not renewed. He, too, expects to be back, even though he didn't play after Sept. 15.
"You'll probably see me in the spring," Kittle said. "They're not going to let me go. I'll put it this way. If they let me go, I'll be a free agent -- and the market is there."
Kittle, 32, led the White Sox with 16 home runs when he was acquired for Phil Bradley on July 30. But he arrived with a groin injury, and batted only .164 for the Orioles with two homers and three RBIs in 61 at-bats.
* DOOR NO. 3: It's difficult to imagine a scenario under which both Kittle and Sam Horn will be back next season, but Robinson told Horn yesterday that he has a chance to become the Orioles' full-time DH.
Where that would leave Kittle is anyone's guess, but the 26-year-old Horn might indeed win the job he has been seeking his entire career. His numbers this year projected to 28 homers and 91 RBIs over 500 at-bats.
Horn bats left, Kittle right.
Neither runs well.
"All I can say is that I should get a pretty good chance at being an everyday player somewhere next year," Horn said. "I think they're comfortable with me. I think they want to see what I can do over the course of a full season."
But first, Robinson wants the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Horn to report in better condition. Asked about a full-time job, the manager said, "It's there. But it won't be given to him. He has to earn it."
* MVP CAL: Ripken won the 1990 Louis M. Hatter award as Most Valuable Oriole. It was the third time Ripken won the award, but the first by himself. He tied with Eddie Murray in 1983 and '88.
The voting is done by sportswriters and sportscasters who cover the team on a regular basis. Ripken received 38 points, including five first-place votes, under a 5-3-1 system. He batted .250 with 21 homers and 84 RBIs, and set seven major-league defensive records.
Olson was second with 24 (two first-place votes), followed by first baseman Randy Milligan at 16 (two), second baseman Bill Ripken 13 (one), pitcher Dave Johnson seven (one) and pitcher Ben McDonald one.