Williamson adds out to year of frustration

October 02, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

NEW YORK -- Three days ago Mark Williamson assessed what has happened in his department this year and made a harsh prediction about his future.

"What he's done this year has been amazing," Williamson said of fellow reliever Todd Frohwirth, who has been the bullpen workhorse since joining the Orioles four months ago. "He's going to get me traded.

"I picked a bad time to have a bad year," said Williamson, who recently became a home owner in the Baltimore area, a step players often consider to be a kiss of death.

Williamson no doubt was being unduly tough on himself. Manager John Oates is on record as saying he likes the makeup of his relief corps.

Nothing that happens in the final week of this mishmash of a season will change Oates' outlook -- but every missed step seems to magnify all the little things that have gone wrong with the Orioles this year.

So it was with Williamson last night. He faced only one hitter -- rookie pinch-hitter John Ramos -- and got him to hit a soft fly ball to centerfielder Mike Devereaux. No big deal, except it was a sacrifice fly that produced the winning run in the Yankees' 3-2, 11-inning win last night.

Williamson had inherited a first-and-third, one-out situation when he replaced Jim Poole (2-1), who gave up a pair of singles sandwiched around a sacrifice bunt. This is the territory where Williamson lives professionally -- always walking a tightrope.

He's used to it, and in the last two years the 32-year-old righthander has enjoyed considerable success, with a combined record of 18-7, 10 saves and a 2.62 earned run average. But this injury-marred year of inconsistency has taken its toll.

Williamson is 5-5 with a 4.50 ERA, so each missed opportunity is considered a failure.

After giving up the sacrifice fly to Ramos, Williamson stalked the dugout after the inning berating himself. He wasn't any easier on himself in the clubhouse later.

"It was a hanging slider," said Williamson. "I got ahead in the count and, in that situation, I had three shots at him to make him hit my pitch. If I get the ball down, I have a chance of striking him out or getting a ground ball."

But the slider stayed up, maybe 15 inches above its intended target.

"I'm sure he was mad at himself because of the location, not necessarily the pitch selection," said Oates. "It was high, very high -- not a good place to keep the ball in the infield.

"I don't have any trouble with his selection. He had two strikes on the hitter. If he gets the ball down -- either a slider or a fastball -- he's got a chance to strike him out or get a ground ball and get out of the inning.

"You've got a chance to get a high fastball by a hitter, or make him pop it up," said Oates. "But that's a bad place for a slider."

Still, it wasn't like Williamson had given up a three-run homer to blow a lead, or dig himself a hole by getting behind the hitter. He threw four pitches, and one of them was just enough out of place to drive in the winning run.

Living on the reliever's edge isn't exactly like a day at the beach -- unless you get sand kicked in your face. If it's any consolation to Williamson, and it probably isn't, his situation is no different from that of the Orioles. Too often the difference has been like a razor's edge.

And if anyone understands how fragile the difference often is between winning and losing, it is Bob Milacki, who pitched the first nine innings last night. After starting the season in the minor leagues he has now pitched 181 1/3 innings (3.87 ERA) to lead the Orioles' staff.

Milacki's 10-8 record this year is as modest as his career mark (31-28, 3.82). It's also just as misleading. Last night was the 16th time in his career that Milacki has pitched at least six innings, allowed no more than two earned runs -- and not been credited with a win. In those games, Milacki is 0-4 with 12 no-decisions.

"He's pitching as well as he can," said Oates. "There's nothing he has to do different. I didn't think his curve was as good as it's been, but he made some good pitches. Any time you only give up two in this park [Yankee Stadium] against all those lefthanded hitters you've done a pretty good job."

In this instance, Milacki came out ahead on the deal. At least he didn't have to soak up another loss.

Neither did Williamson, but that wasn't a consolation. It was a missed opportunity to salvage something in a season that's beyond salvation.

Which is just another way to describe what the Orioles have gone through all year.

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