TORONTO -- A few weeks ago, when he was leading the league in relief innings pitched, Mike Flanagan was asked if he was aware of his lofty standing.
"Yes, I am," said the Orioles lefthander who has found a new career in the bullpen, "because I know how much Duane Ward pays attention to those things. And I know Jimmy Key and Tom Henke are giving him the business -- asking him how he can be such a workhorse if an old guy like me has more innings."
Ward smiled when the story was relayed to him last night, after the rugged righthander had pitched the last two innings of Toronto's 3-1 win over the Orioles. "I've been keeping up with what he's doing," Ward said of Flanagan, a teammate with the Blue Jays the last four years.
"Flanny's done a great job for them. I looked up at the scoreboard last night and saw he had 87 innings, then he got three more, so he's got his 90 now. But he's not going to catch me."
Flanagan couldn't disagree. "In the midst of a pennant race, I like his chances," said the veteran starter-turned-reliever. Actually, four of Flanagan's innings came in his lone start, so Ward's 94 innings give him a bigger cushion than he realized.
A reliever who's not a closer has to find something to substitute for saves, and Henke has been the closer around here as long as anyone can remember. So, for Ward the replacement numbers are games and innings pitched.
"I take pride in pitching a lot of games and a lot of innings," he said. "This will be the fourth year in a row [among the leaders in those departments]. I like to think I'm durable."
This year, Ward has added another dimension. Last night he recorded his career-high 18th save (in 20 opportunities). Twelve of those came earlier in the year, when Henke was on the disabled list, and there is a strong possibility more opportunities will be coming.
Henke is currently sidelined with what has been described as a mild case of tendinitis in his shoulder. He got up to throw in the bullpen last night, but interim manager Gene Tenace never considered using him.
"I think that was more of a test," said Ward. "That's the only way you can find out about tendinitis -- to test it. They wanted to see how long it would take Tom to get loose."
About the only way Flanagan, or anybody else, will pitch more relief innings than Ward would be if Henke remained sidelined for a prolonged period. That would restrict Ward to shorter, more frequent roles.
"We've got a lot of arms out there now with the September call-ups," said Ward. "There's enough of us to pick it up until Tom gets back."
On a night when Orioles manager John Oates didn't think Ward had his best stuff, he still managed to breeze through two innings. "I've seen him sometimes when I can remember thinking -- 'wow, this is a setup man?' " said Oates. "I didn't see that tonight. I don't think he had his best velocity, but he got us out and that's all that matters."
Ward entered the game after Todd Stottlemyre (13-6) had given up only four hits and one run over the first seven innings. He ran his career record against the Orioles to 5-0.
"Every time I see him, he looks the same to me," said Oates. "Good velocity, good movement, good location. I don't know how he's lost six times, judging by the way he's pitched against us."
It was the eighth win in nine decisions for Stottlemyre at the SkyDome this year. "I can't explain it, other than to say I think this is a great place to pitch," said the righthander, whose father is a former 20-game winner with the Yankees and currently the pitching coach with the Mets.
"I hear other teams come in and say they think this is a great place to hit, too," said Stottlemyre. "But I think it's enjoyable to pitch here. You know there are going to be 50,000 people rooting for you and that's a positive force I look forward to."
Stottlemyre's only trouble spot came in the last inning he pitched, when a double by Dwight Evans and single by Chito Martinez with two outs in the seventh spoiled his shutout. Once the Orioles broke through, Tenace didn't hesitate going to Ward -- and then staying with him.
"I was cussing at myself after throwing three straight balls to [Chris] Hoiles," said Ward. "The one thing you don't want to do is walk the leadoff man. The next guy [pinch-hitter Sam Horn] has taken me deep before, and you don't want to put yourself in the position of getting the tying run to the plate."
Ward threw three straight pitches in the strike zone and got Hoiles on a fly ball to rightfield. "I think I took a little out of their game plan right there," he said.
Actually, if the Orioles had much of an offensive game plan, it wasn't visible against either Stottlemyre or Ward. Home runs by Joe Carter in the first inning and Candy Maldonado in the second proved to be all the Blue Jays needed to maintain their three-game lead atop the American League's Eastern Division race.