Olson throws away game, then tosses '66 outfit


June 20, 1991|By JOHN EISENBERG

He threw his entire uniform in the trash can.





"I will never," Gregg Olson said, "ever again wear anything

associated with Turn Back the Clock Day."

He even threw out his shoes. Perfectly good spikes. And he doesn't have another pair broken in.

"I will," he said, "take my chances."

He had a bad day. A very bad day. The mother of all bad days for a relief pitcher.

The Orioles lost a game as a result. There was an explanation.

"I wasn't supposed to be here," Olson said. "I wasn't even born in 1966."

Actually, he was -- two days after the Orioles won the World Series for the first time. The club celebrated the memory of that season yesterday. They played a midweek day game. They sold a few tickets at 1966 prices. They sold cheap popcorn. The team wore 1966-style uniforms. Forty-four thousand fans showed up.

For eight innings, it was a party. There was 1966 music on the PA, 1966 TV on the DiamondVision. The game was terrific. The Orioles spotted the Minnesota Twins three runs in the first, then rallied to take a 4-3 lead. Mike Devereaux made a homer-saving, over-the-fence catch in the eighth.

Then it was the ninth and Olson was on the mound to save the win and there was some jazz in the air for one of the few times this season, and, goodness, what happened was so turn-the-head appalling that most of the 44,742 had cleared out before the Twins registered three outs.

"If the Orioles ever have another Turn Back the Clock Day," Olson said, "I don't want to be here."

He had a bad day. He didn't just blow the game. He blew it up. Blew it up real good.

It was so awful, such a complete and catastrophic departure for him, that after he had collected himself -- "Everyone hates to lose, but he really hates it," pitching coach Al Jackson said -- all he could do was make a couple of jokes. And shrug at the game's sheer randomness. And throw his uniform in the trash.

Four hits. Three wild pitches. Two walks. A throwing error. All in two-thirds of an inning. It made a mere blown save look like a perfect game. It was the stuff of the Orioles' starting pitchers. It was so bad, you knew it was a freak. At the racetrack, they wouldn't even blink. "Just throw it out," they'd say. A clunker.

The Twins scored five runs. They won, 8-4. Turn back the clock? They've got it backward. Let's get that sucker moving ahead. (How about Move the Clock Ahead Day? Everyone under 14 gets an Orioles spacesuit.) Can't we hurry up and get this season over with? Some fans actually booed Olson as he left the field. The guy loses a game at home for the first time in his ground-breaking career, and he gets booed. Enough already. This season smells like boiled fish.

"But you know," Olson said, "if I was sitting up there and they put a guy in to save the game and he put on the performance I did, I wouldn't be real happy either." (Nonetheless, memo to fans: Weak. Very weak.)

The spinout left the Orioles truly dazed, and that's saying something for a team that has lost 'em in all shapes and sizes this year. The clubhouse was almost silent for 20 minutes. Manager John Oates sat in his office in a palpable daze. "Kind of leaves you with an empty feeling," he said.

What happened? Olson couldn't really say. He'd been almost unhittable in his previous few outings. His curveball felt sharp in the bullpen. "As sharp as it had all year," he said. He got Chili Davis out to end the eighth. All was right with the world. Then the first batter in the ninth got a hit. And the second. And the third. All on fastballs.

"I was getting ahead of the hitters, but they just beat me," he

said. "They found the holes. You're out there saying, 'OK, I can get out of this,' and everything falls apart, and then you regroup and say, 'OK, I can still get out of this,' and it keeps falling apart. You're not choking or anything. It isn't one bad pitch. You're just done."

Then came the wild pitches. One, two, three. All on curveballs. The ball flying everywhere. "I had [his curve] in a groove where it was bouncing in the dirt before it got to the catcher, instead of as it got there," he said. "It's a chance you take. It [the sharp curveball] is my game. I'd be throwing them tomorrow in the same situation."

Believe this: It can get no worse for him. Not only did he lose the game, but he also suffered the ignominy of flopping around on the field chasing his own wild pitches, two of which bounced toward first. This was an All-Star reduced to the lowest possible circumstances.

"I know this much," he said. "You know you're in trouble when you're fielding your own wild pitches."

He will be fine. You can bet on that. He doesn't blow many games, but he has blown enough to learn the ritual. You avoid the TV cameras after the last out, stew for a few hours, then forget about it. It's the only way.

"He understands that," Oates said. "When you have such a small margin for error in your job, you better understand you're going to fail sometimes, or you're going to go crazy."

Olson allowed himself a little craziness yesterday. He stewed for a few minutes. Then he threw his shirt in the trash. Then his pants. Then his socks. Then his shoes. Then he showered, dressed and talked to the press, all class. As he finished, he spotted one of the 1966-vintage stirrups he'd worn.

He grabbed it, balled it up and carried it over to the trash can. Michael Jordan never dunked with more authority. "There," he said, wiping his hands together, as if he were wiping his hands of the entire afternoon, "that should do it."

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