CHICAGO -- Left-hander Mike Flanagan has gotten comfortable in the Baltimore Orioles bullpen, and the Orioles have gotten very comfortable with him on the mound.
No wonder. He has been one of the most effective setup men in the game this year, appearing in 45 games and holding the opposition scoreless in 34. In his past 19 appearances, he has given up two earned runs in 34 innings to drop his overall ERA to 1.99.
"Obviously, you're not going to have a year like this if the starting pitchers are going good," he said, "but it feels good." Flanagan was leading the league with 77 relief innings until the Toronto Blue Jays' Duane Ward pushed his total to 77 2/3 with a two-inning performance yesterday.
"To me, this is good," Flanagan said. "If this is a tremendous workload, then I can handle it."
He remains a strong candidate for the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award, though New York Yankees reliever Steve Howe also will get tremendous consideration if he continues to pitch well.
Flanagan went to spring training as a non-roster player, willing to fit in anywhere on the Orioles staff. He fit in so well in the bullpen that he has lost interest in being a starting pitcher again.
"Now, I'm coming into the situations that I used to come out of," he said. "It's refreshing."
Player of the Week?
Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas has to be one of the leading candidates for American League Player of the Week after a seven-day roll during which he batted .520 with five home runs (two of them game-winners), 13 RBI, a .625 on-base percentage and a 1.240 slugging percentage.
For the year, Thomas is batting .317 with 22 home runs and 79 RBI. He has failed to reach base in only six of the club's 104 games.
Hough's old catchers
How often does this happen? Knuckleballer Charlie Hough was pitching in a game that was managed by two of his former catchers. Jeff Torborg and John Oates caught Hough when he was a relief pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"Charlie is even starting to look old," said Oates. "Those cigarettes are starting to get to him . . . but there was more puff than huff. He hardly broke a sweat."
White Sox cool down
The White Sox averaged nine runs in the eight-game winning streak they carried into the weekend series with the Orioles. They scored a total of four runs in three games against the suddenly rejuvenated Orioles pitching staff.
"We scored four runs this series, and we were lucky to win a game when you think about it," Torborg said. "We just got some super defense today."
Rookie reliever Jim Poole made his third straight scoreless appearance yesterday, retiring the final batter in the eighth inning to get starter Mike Mussina out of a minor jam. Poole gave up a hit to the first batter he faced in his first appearance, but has retired 12 in a row since then.
The White Sox drew their 49th consecutive crowd of 30,000 or more yesterday and topped the 2 million mark in season attendance for the fourth time in club history. It was the earliest they have reached that plateau. . . . OF Mike Devereaux struggled to make contact during the weekend, striking out 6 times in 7 at-bats at one stretch, but he still got a hit in each game.