Orioles' bullpen Poole grows deeper by the day

Ken Rosenthal

September 24, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

After each inning he returned to the Orioles' clubhouse, the better to calm himself down. Jim Poole said he almost hyperventilated upon surviving his initial bases-loaded, none-out jam. He never guessed his adrenaline rush would last a career-high five innings.

Five innings, on a damp night, in someone else's pennant race. Five innings that rescued starter Jose Mesa and set up Gregg Olson's 30th save at Memorial Stadium. Five innings that will live in Boston Red Sox infamy if they fail to win the AL East.

The lefthanded Poole yielded just one single, and that was after retiring 13 straight hitters for 14 outs. His 4-3 victory kept the Red Sox 1 1/2 games behind Toronto, and further convinced the Orioles that yes, their bullpen might actually be something to behold in 1992.

Hard to believe for a team that started the year with Jose Bautista and Paul Kilgus in middle relief, but it's true. Poole, Todd Frohwirth and Mike Flanagan all are castoffs from other clubs. But as Orioles, they've combined for 200 innings and a 2.12 ERA.

Flanagan, 39, still qualifies as the biggest surprise, for he came to spring training without a contract. But Frohwirth, 28, was a minor-league free agent from Philadelphia. And Poole, 25, got traded by Los Angeles and waived by Texas in a span of six months.

Desperate as they are for pitching, the Rangers surely regret losing Poole because of a need for roster space and a hair-trigger demand by manager Bobby Valentine. The Orioles claimed Poole May 31, recalled him from Triple A July 30. His performance since then has been downright staggering.

Excluding two intentional walks, Poole has faced 109 hitters in waters both deep and shallow, and only 17 have reached base. As an Oriole, he's 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA, with 28 strikeouts and five walks in 20 innings -- the last 10 of which have been scoreless.

Needless to say, he's already a favorite of manager John Oates, not only because he throws strikes -- the most important consideration -- but also because of his inner fire. Before games, Poole quietly works on crossword puzzles. But when he pitches, he's an American Gladiator.

Oates knew Poole was pumped last night just by listening to him coming off the mound. "He was talking, screaming," Oates said. "I can't repeat all the stuff he was saying." Pointing to his heart, Oates added, "He's got something in here. He doesn't wait for it to happen. He wants to make it happen."

Last night Poole couldn't wait for anything; he barely had time to warm up. He started throwing after Jack Clark and Mike Greenwell led off the fourth with singles. Pitching coach Al Jackson paid a visit to Mesa, but another single by Mo Vaughn loaded the bases. Oates needed Poole, and fast.

Bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks said Poole threw only about 10 pitches before indicating he was ready. "I was on the top step saying, Hurry, hurry, hurry,' " Oates said. "I don't know how I could have stolen another 30 seconds."

Later Flanagan said, "I couldn't believe how fast he got ready," but Poole said of his brief warmup period, "It was enough." Obviously -- he needed only three pitches to retire pinch hitter Tom Brunansky on a double play and Tony Pena on a grounder to third.

Clark scored the tying run on Brunansky's double play, but the Orioles regained the lead in the bottom half, and Poole took it from there. He didn't allow a baserunner until Jody Reed's

two-out single in the eighth, all the while trying to stay calm.

"I guess because I got ready so quick, my adrenaline really kicked in," he said. "I had to make a conscious effort to slow down before each inning. Every time I came off the field my heart was beating. I had to come in here and take some deep breaths."

Afterward Olson shouted, "Did you get a game ball? Did you get a game ball?" while in the visiting clubhouse the Red Sox tried to figure out what went wrong. Vaughn said, "He got ahead and made his pitch." Reed added, "He never gave us anything to hit."

Poole throws mostly fastballs and sliders, but last night he mixed in changeups as well -- "You have to when you go five," Jackson said, laughing. Before joining the Orioles, Poole's longest stint as a pro was three innings. Like Frohwirth, he figured to be the type of guy you fetched after one.

Now it seems Oates is extending both relievers to career-highs every time they pitch. The bullpen has worked a total of 514 1/3 innings, most in the majors and just 13 1/3 fewer than the club record set in 1987. "I don't see how it could get much better," Olson said.

Jackson said he'd like to add another hard-throwing righthander for situations requiring strikeouts, but Mark Williamson is nearly that pitcher when healthy. Let's not get picky: The relievers are 22-22, the starters 41-65. Where now there is Poole, once there was Kevin Hickey.

To think, just last week Poole read a Boston newspaper article criticizing the Red Sox for losing to the anonymous "bums" playing for the Orioles. It infuriated him, but last night he got the last word. Five innings that will live in infamy. Red Sox drown in Orioles' Poole.

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