The last thing the Boston Red Sox needed was for Jim Poole to crash their pennant chase party as an univited and practically unknown participant.
You could hardly call the Orioles' lefthanded reliever a guest, and he was definitely much more than a spectator. For five innings last night Poole dazzled the Red Sox with a good breaking ball and an effective fastball, allowing just one hit while facing the minimum of 15 batters.
The result was a 4-3 win for the Orioles that kept the Red Sox from moving to within a half-game of the American League East lead. The Toronto Blue Jays, limping through a tough West Coast trip, maintained a 1 1/2 -game lead despite losing to California, 10-9.
It would be difficult to prove it by his results, but last night was the longest outing of Poole's professional career. "I went six innings once in 1986," said Poole (2-0). "That was in a summer league game after my sophomore year in college [Georgia Tech]."
Poole is one of those guys who has been a relief pitcher, maybe out of necessity, for as long as he cares to remember. "I made one start in college and lasted two-thirds of an inning," he said. "My other 119 appearances were all in relief."
Why one start? "We were playing in Hawaii and needed an extra starter," he said. "I had pitched in relief a couple of days before, so I went out there."
What about high school? "Oh, I was a starter in high school," he said. "But I was terrible then."
How terrible? "I was 2-and-16," Poole said with a sheepish smile.
Before joining the Orioles, Poole said his longest outing was "three-plus innings," so it would figure last night's game was like a marathon.
"It was a different feeling, I kind of liked it," he said. "I felt fine. I didn't feel like it was a long stint."
Using only 61 pitches (41 strikes) helped. "That's the difference," said Poole. "Everybody talks about innings, but it's the number of pitches. That [61 pitches] is about four innings for me -- 15 pitches an inning."
When Poole entered the game the Orioles were in a precarious position, nursing a 3-2 lead with the bases loaded and nobody out in the fourth inning. Pinch hitter Tom Brunansky hit a sharp double-play ball to shortstop Cal Ripken to tie the game and Poole proceeded to retire 13 straight hitters before giving up a two-out single to Jody Reed in the eighth.
He then struck out Phil Plantier to finish the inning, and his evening's work. Gregg Olson pitched the ninth and picked up his 30th save.
"Bases loaded, nobody out . . . that was a big moment," Boston manager Joe Morgan said of Brunansky's at-bat. "If we get a hit there, you don't know what could happen. He hit it well, but in the wrong direction."
Morgan cited two plays as the keys to the game -- Brunansky's double play, and a two-out play on Mike Devereaux at first base that produced a third run for the Orioles in the second inning. Red Sox shortstop Luis Rivera booted a grounder by Devereaux, who beat the throw to first, a play Morgan disputed with umpire Jim McKean.
However, the biggest play of the game might have come in the very first inning. The Red Sox opened the game with four straight hits off Jose Mesa -- a pair of singles and two doubles -- but scored only two runs. The key was leftfielder Joe Orsulak's major-league leading 21st assist as he threw out Reed trying to stretch a single into a double.
Once Poole got the Orioles through Boston's fourth-inning threat, the Red Sox offense was finished for the night. They managed only two more baserunners -- Reed in the eighth and Mike Greenwell (hit by an Olson pitch) in the ninth, before Mo Vaughn hit into a game-ending double play.
On a night the Red Sox missed a chance to pull even with the Blue Jays in the all important loss column (commonly known as the AILC), the game belonged to Poole. Until two months ago he was an obscure 25-year-old lefthander who had been traded and sold on waivers (from Texas) since last season.
He was so pumped up that he needed only about 10 warmup pitches in the bullpen ("I couldn't believe he got ready that fast," said Mike Flanagan) and was close to hyperventilating when he came off the mound in the fourth inning.
For a guy who was 2-and-16 as a high school pitcher, Jim Poole has come a long way, thank you baby.