Maybe Dempsey can redirect pitch here

Ken Rosenthal

July 05, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

Certain pitching lines are so bizarre, they're worth clipping from the newspaper and posting on the refrigerator. But this pitching line is so historic, it deserves its own frame.

Dempsey: IP 1, H 3, ER 1, SO 0, BB 0.

Surely it was a joke.

Rick Dempsey, the catcher?

Or Jack Dempsey, the fighter?

They'd be about the same age if the legendary heavyweight was still alive. The fact that he's not leaves us with this inescapable truth:

Rick Dempsey pitched.

Pretty well, he might add.

"I didn't walk anybody," the former Oriole said Wednesday, the day after his major-league pitching debut in Milwaukee's 14-4 loss to Boston.

"There was one infield hit and two other hits. I would have been out of the inning if I had a catcher like myself who would field a little chopper in front of home plate."

More on the Dempsey-B.J. Surhoff feud in a minute. The facts, as we know them, are these: Dempsey, 41, threw 77 mph, or about as hard as Jeff Ballard. He finished with a 9.00 ERA, which ranks him ahead of the injured Dave Johnson.

Come to think of it, Dempsey also was more effective than Paul Kilgus as a ninth-inning mopup man. That makes three Orioles pitchers who better start worrying about their jobs. And remember, Dempsey catches too.

Of course, Brewers manager Tom Trebelhorn never planned on using Dempsey, but he also didn't plan on his club blowing five-run leads in back-to-back games against New York, then losing by 6-0 and 14-4 in back-to-back games against Boston.

The Brewers have now lost six straight. Dempsey started at catcher Tuesday and went 1-for-3 with two RBIs. Trebelhorn asked him to pitch after the Brewers allowed their 36th run in four games. He was short a reliever after using Mark Knudson as his starter.

"You know you're getting your fanny crunched before you even entertain the thought," Trebelhorn said. "You wouldn't do it unless it's a galling situation. I knew Rick Dempsey could throw strikes. All we wanted for him was to throw strikes and finish them off."

That Dempsey did. He stuck mostly with his gas, but also mixed in a few changeups, two sliders and one curve. Never mind that he hadn't pitched since 1967, his senior year in high school and the year Boston's Mo Vaughn was born.

"I always wanted to see what it was like," he said. "I said, 'Hell, it'll be great.' "

He got into immediate trouble, allowing a leadoff double to Kevin Romine. No big deal -- he had an excuse. "The umpire [Larry Barnett] missed the first pitch I threw, can you believe it?" Dempsey said. "Right down the middle and he missed it."

As it turned out, Dempsey couldn't complain about the umpiring. Working from the stretch, he went to his mouth three times. Barnett, he said, "should have called three balks." Apparently, the umpire was too caught up in the moment.

Dempsey wasn't.

With Romine at second, the 6-foot, 199-pound righthander bore down. First he retired Tom Brunansky on a popup. Then he retired Ellis Burks on a grounder to short. "I jammed him on a changeup," Dempsey recalled proudly. "It sailed in."

The next hitter was John Marzano, who later said, "I don't get a chance to play much. I like to face real pitchers." Big shot that he is, Marzano hit the fateful little chopper in front of home plate.

Dempsey said it "felt funny charging it from the other end," and insisted Surhoff should have made the play. "My catcher wasn't too excited about being in the game," Dempsey joked. "He didn't get a good jump on the ball."

So, Marzano reached first on an infield hit, advancing Romine to third. Luis Rivera followed with an RBI single to left, ending Dempsey's scoreless streak at two-thirds of an inning. Jody Reed finally made the third out on a fly to right.

The next day Dempsey said his arm was sore, but only from two foul tips that glanced off him while he was catching. He received numerous phone calls, including one from pitcher Tim Belcher, his former teammate in Los Angeles. Belcher told him next time, keep the ball down.

Dempsey said the experience was "even more exhilarating" than dancing on the dugout at Memorial Stadium. He has now played every position in the majors but shortstop and centerfield. The Orioles should sign him next season to substitute for Cal Ripken -- or maybe just to pitch.

Just think, he could get his arm in shape during those winter workouts conducted by bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks at Memorial Stadium. Hendricks, another former catcher, could relate: He pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings in a 24-10 loss at Toronto in 1978.

Rick, are you with us?

"Possibly," the Demper said, laughing. "It depends on whoever tries to pick me up."

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