Flanagan gets call, but not one he feared

August 01, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

SEATTLE -- Mike Flanagan couldn't help but recall the night four years ago when he became an ex-Oriole.

"I've been through this once before, so I don't take anything for granted," said the 39-year-old lefthander. "That time it shocked me."

Last night, less than two hours after the official trading deadline passed, Flanagan gave yet another reason why he should figure more prominently in the Orioles' plans now than he did four years ago. He gave up two hits and no runs in 3 2/3 innings of relief and was credited with the win as the Orioles broke a five-game losing streak with a 4-2, 11-inning win over the Seattle Mariners.

Flanagan's name had surfaced in trade rumors the last few days, and they weren't dismissed easily by the veteran lefthander. "Sure, it worried me," he said. "Contenders are always looking to pilfer somebody late in the season.

"I remember my experience in 1987. I came to the park at 5 o'clock and figured I was safe, but the trade [to Toronto] still went down.

"I had gone on rehab [assignment] that year and [Jeff] Ballard was having a great year at Triple A," recalled Flanagan. "They were looking to make a youth movement. I pitched good down there [at Rochester] and when I came back, so I could see it coming."

Still, his trade to the Blue Jays was a shock that Flanagan remembers to this day. And one of the bitter ironies of baseball is the fact that while Flanagan was sweating out another deadline, Ballard was sent back to Rochester.

"It's still not over," said Flanagan, noting that teams have until Aug. 31 to acquire players eligible for postseason play. "The next month is the toughest."

However, Flanagan's situation is a lot different than it was in 1987. In many ways he's more valuable to the club now, in his newfound relief role, than he was then. He also fits more comfortably into the picture for next year, as opposed to four years ago, when the Orioles figured Ballard was ready to take his place in the rotation.

Ever since he signed with the Orioles as a free agent this spring, it has been Flanagan's desire to close out his career where it started. And lately he has allowed himself to think about pitching in the final game at Memorial Stadium. That's a dream that moved a big step closer to reality yesterday.

"I can't imagine any team giving us what I consider to be necessary to trade Mike Flanagan," said manager John Oates. "He has made himself a very valuable player on this team."

Flanagan (2-3) proved that point again last night. He replaced Dave Johnson, who gave a strong performance in his return to the starting rotation, with a man on and one out in the seventh inning and encountered only one brief trouble spot until turning the game over to Gregg Olson in the 11th.

After retiring the first six hitters he faced, Flanagan gave up a double to pinch-hitter Dave Valle in the bottom of the ninth. A single by Sam Horn and a triple by Randy Milligan had enabled the Orioles to tie the game in the top half of the inning.

After Omar Vizquel sliced a looper down the rightfield line that was foul by only a few feet, it looked like Oates might make a move to Olson, who was ready in the bullpen. Instead there was just a conversation about strategy and gamesmanship.

"Vizquel had gotten a few hits off breaking balls during the series," said Flanagan, "and I think he [Oates] felt the runner was giving away the location [of the pitches] from second base.

"He said he wanted to set up for a fastball outside and come in with it," said Flanagan. "So I threw it down the middle and he hit a ground ball [to shortstop Cal Ripken].

"It's become a fairly common practice for runners at second base to let the hitter know where the pitch is supposed to go," said Flanagan. "It's done very easily -- you watch a runner take his lead and if he leans back toward the base, it's a signal that the pitch is going outside. He leans the other way if it's called on the inside."

After Vizquel grounded out, Flanagan issued an intentional walk to Edgar Martinez, got Harold Reynolds to fly out, then breezed past Ken Griffey Jr., Pete O'Brien and Alvin Davis in the 10th inning before calling it a night.

In the 11th inning the Orioles got their only hit of the night with a runner in scoring position when Chris Hoiles looped a two-run single to right with the bases loaded to make Bill Swift (1-2) the loser. Olson closed it out with his 22nd save of the year, enabling the Orioles to salvage one game of the three-game series with the Mariners.

And when the night finally concluded and the Orioles headed for Chicago, Mike Flanagan had more than another victory. He had survived what he considers the first of two important dates before he can be in position to help close Memorial Stadium.

There's still Aug. 31 to consider -- it's the date he didn't survive four years ago. But, in order for Flanagan to be traded now, he'd have to clear waivers. That isn't going to happen, and the Orioles aren't going to let him go for $25,000.

Mike Flanagan can start looking ahead to a different date, Oct. 6, when the Orioles will play their last game at his favorite park.

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