3 years later, Boddicker is streaking on to better things

Ken Rosenthal

March 18, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

HAINES CITY, Fla. -- A mere three years ago, Mike Boddicker was the Orioles' Opening Day pitcher. The result was the baseball equivalent of an air-raid siren: Brewers 12, Orioles 0.

"You can't judge on one game," Boddicker insisted that day, so the Orioles lost 20 more, not only setting the record straight, but setting a record, period.

"I remember not sleeping at night, trying to figure out some other way to win when there was no other way," he recalls now. "It was like Schleprock. There was a cloud hanging over our heads. It just followed us around."

Back then, he never envisioned getting traded to Boston and compiling a higher winning percentage (.639, 39-22) than Roger Clemens (.630, 41-24) during his 2 1/2 -year stay.

As for signing a three-year, $9.25 million free-agent contract with Kansas City and returning to his beloved Midwest -- that seemed even more of a distant dream.

Boddicker, 33, lost the first and last games of The Streak, and three in between. He eventually fell to 0-8, extending his club record for consecutive losses (over two seasons) to 13.

Now, after helping the Red Sox win two AL titles in three years, he's one of 40 major leaguers earning $3 million. And if the Royals recover as expected from a disastrous 1990 season, he could make the playoffs with his third different club.

None of it seemed possible three years ago; indeed, The Streak nearly swallowed Boddicker. Looking back, he says, "You doubt yourself, you always doubt. You wonder, 'Can I get anybody out anymore?' "

He lost his first two starts by a combined 24-1. He hit three batsmen in one game. He balked twice in consecutive outings. His 6.75 ERA in April -- Streak History Month -- was far above his 3.66 career mark.

Of course, he nearly ended the whole thing himself in Game 9, the third after Frank Robinson replaced Cal Ripken Sr. as manager. All he did was pitch a five-hitter against Kansas City, striking out 10, walking none.

Starting in the third inning he retired 18 in a row. But Jim Eisenreich reached him for a two-out single in the ninth, and Frank White followed with a line drive that leftfielder Jeff Stone lost in the Memorial Stadium lights.

Royals 4, Orioles 3.

Boddicker didn't blame Stone, doesn't to this day. But as his record fell to 6-12, he quickly grew fed up. His final loss as an Oriole was a 6-1 crusher in Minnesota. "Would you want to stay?" he asked.

The more relevant question was whether the Orioles wanted him back. Boddicker was eligible for free agency at the end of the '88 season, and he couldn't determine what the club was thinking.

"They made it sound like they wanted me to stay and help the young kids, almost like a pitching coach," Boddicker recalls. "They made it sound almost like I didn't have what it took any more."

It was a highly emotional time. Even now, Boddicker says, "As far as an East Coast city goes, you can't beat Baltimore." The Orioles drafted him in 1978, the same year as Cal Ripken Jr. He never imagined it would all go sour.

He had no time to think once the deal was made, once he signed his two-year, $2 million extension with Boston. It was the year of Morgan Magic, and the Sox had won 19 straight at Fenway as he entered his first start.

Another streak -- just what Boddicker needed.

He won 5-0. The next day he returned to Baltimore with his wife Lisa to attend a memorial service for longtime Orioles trainer Ralph Salvon. It was almost as if he wanted to stay part of the family even after the divorce.

He never considered returning as a free agent -- the Orioles didn't make him a serious offer -- but he still follows his former team closely. He even predicts his old friend Mike Flanagan will win a place in the club's starting rotation this spring.

But all that's behind him now. Boddicker doesn't want to return to his Iowa hometown when he retires -- "it's tough going back to a small town" -- but he wants to be within driving distance, preferably in Kansas City or St. Louis.

It worked out perfect. He's 5-1 lifetime in Royals Stadium, and he's joining a rotation that already includes Bret Saberhagen, Kevin Appier, Storm Davis and Tom Gordon -- and might soon include Mark Gubicza, who is recovering from rotator-cuff surgery.

"I told Gubey, 'If you keep throwing good, you'll be pitching soon and I'll be down in the bullpen cleaning toilets,' " Boddicker says, laughing. "They won't need me any more." Oh, they'll need him all right.

The Streak is but a memory.

"It always gives you that hope," Mike Boddicker says. "Something good can happen."

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