Deep-'66 Rusty, Olson turns back clock, and entire uniform, too

June 20, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

Just what the Orioles didn't need was for their pitching problems to run full cycle.

The latest victim of the day was relief ace Gregg Olson and, despite his track record, this was as predictable as yesterday's weather.

This is the guy who is expected to be perfect. Give Olson a lead in the last two innings and put the game in the win column.

In his three-year career, Olson has been successful 85 percent of the time (74 of 88). His signature pitch is a devastating curveball that bends the knees of the best hitters -- and gives the shakes to the most adept catchers.

However, in the last two weeks Olson had pitched only 4 2/3 innings, a circumstance caused by the tough situation constantly facing manager John Oates. The Orioles have either been too far behind too early (the most familiar scenario), or far enough ahead that Olson's services have not been needed.

It had been 11 days since Olson faced a save opportunity before he walked into a Minnesota Twins buzzsaw yesterday at Memorial Stadium. First he made what he thought were some good pitches that became base hits. Then he made a few that bounced in every possible direction.

Five runs, four hits, three wild pitches, two walks and one error later Olson probably felt like a partridge in a pear tree. What looked like a glorious 4-3 win turned into an ugly 8-4 loss to the Twins that marred a "Turn Back The Clock" celebration by the Orioles.

If the Orioles try the promotion again, they can for get about inviting Olson.

"My uniform [vintage 1966] is safely deposited in the trash can, where it will remain," he said. "I wasn't even born when this game was supposed to be played, so I wasn't supposed to be here -- and the results showed. If they ever turn back the clock again I won't be here."

Spotting his game socks on the floor in front of his locker, Olson picked them up and slam dunked them into the nearest receptacle. "That finishes it off -- the whole uniform is gone, including the spikes."

Asked if he had another pair of shoes broken in for combat, Olson said: "I don't know, but I'll take my chances. The others are 'bye-bye.' The new ones have to be better."

Olson had retired Chili Davis on a routine fly to end the eighth inning and seemed to be on top of his game, despite his inactivity this month. "I probably had my best curveball of the year in the bullpen," said Olson. "But that's not usually a good sign for me."

That much held true yesterday. Once Brian Harper led off with a ground single through the middle, the Twins moved around the bases like figures on a pinball machine. Two more singles and a series of weird wild pitches left Olson and the Orioles in a dazed condition.

When he was mercifully removed from the game, Olson heard a smattering of boos from what remained of a crowd of 44,742. It was his first loss in 79 appearances at Memorial Stadium, but in a game that featured such a bizarre ending that was lost on those still on the scene.

"They [the fans] pay their money to see a good game and to see me do my job," said Olson. "I didn't do it, so that's their right."

In the manager's office Oates looked as if he'd been hit with a sledgehammer. He couldn't have expected what he had witnessed, but he's been around enough to know funny things can happen in such situations.

"I don't know any short reliever who likes to sit around for three or four days and then have to come into a game situation," said Oates. "We try to keep him from being inactive, but it's tough to use him [in needless causes] when you think you might want him the next night."

Before he left the mound (after pitching only two-thirds of an inning) Olson had gone from a pitcher who needed work to one who was still around just to throw a few more pitches.

"By that point, he'd had enough," said Oates, "because hopefully we'll have a chance to use him again tomorrow [tonight]."

Olson (0-3) wouldn't use his light workload -- or turning his ankle slightly during ninth-inning warmups -- as an excuse for yesterday's performance. "I felt great, I felt like I made some good pitches that they hit, and then the ball started bouncing in funny places," he said.

"I haven't had to field that many wild pitches in a long time," said Olson, alluding to the two that caromed up the first base line.

Suffice it to say it wasn't a pleasant experience for one of the American League's premier relievers. But, he vowed, it won't change his approach any more than the wild pitch he threw in Toronto on Sept. 29, 1989 that allowed the tying run to score in the first game of the AL East showdown with the Blue Jays.

"I live with the curveball and sometimes I die with the curveball," he said. "I've been blessed my entire career with good defensive catchers and I've never worried about throwing a curveball in the dirt. That's part of my game. I just couldn't find the spot in the dirt where the ball could be blocked.

"I didn't change after the wild pitch in 1989 and I won't change now," said Olson. "Throwing the ball in the dirt is a chance I take. I took it before and I will take it again.

"It [yesterday's game] wasn't one pitch, it wasn't one hitter," said Olson. "I didn't choke. It was just overkill.

"It happens, but nobody expects it. Nobody knows when, but it happens. I'm just sorry that it happened to cost us a game we should have won. It takes about 10 minutes to get over it -- you have to get it out of your mind. Then you say it'll never happen again.

"I said that last year, in August, I believe -- but it did happen again."

With that, Olson finished packing his bag and headed for Kansas City. He hopes he gets the same opportunity again tonight.

So does John Oates.

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