MINNEAPOLIS -- Ever since 1983, when he broke in with the Oakland Athletics, Bill Krueger has been a baseball mystery.
He has logged more than seven years of major-league service over that period -- but only once (1991) did he spend an entire year on an active roster. It's also the only time he's pitched more than 151 innings (175) at the highest level.
Krueger's left-handedness has both intrigued and baffled the four teams for which he has played as well as numerous others who have had interest, including the Orioles.
Between trips to the minor leagues and the disabled list -- sometimes both -- Krueger has always appeared to be on the brink. Now, at the age of 34, he's become a nine-year overnight sensation -- and the Orioles have become his latest victim.
Krueger allowed only two hits in eight innings last night as the Minnesota Twins pinned a 4-1 defeat on the Orioles. The win raised his record to 4-0, matching Chicago's Jack McDowell and Greg Hibbard as the league's best. It also raised his earned average -- to 0.84, another league-leading figure.
Those are strange numbers for a guy who could only command a Triple-A contract last winter -- following the best year of his career (11-8, 3.60 ERA for the Seattle Mariners).
Even though he lives in Seattle and preferred to stay, Krueger rejected arbitration from the Mariners in hopes of securing a guaranteed multi-year contract.
"We had talked to six or seven teams about a two-year deal," Krueger said after last night's win. "We rejected arbitration in the hopes that would spur Seattle into doing something.
"They had to do something by Jan. 7 [or relinquish negotiation rights for the first month of the season]. When they dropped out, suddenly I was in a different position."
What Krueger suddenly found out was that those six or seven teams eliminated themselves from the bidding, leaving him without a viable offer. There is considerable speculation that Minnesota general manager Andy MacPhail made a shrewd deal, and that there was more to the Twins' Triple-A offer than what appeared on the written document.
Nevertheless, Krueger says he was reduced to two teams, the Twins and the Yankees, offering minor-league contracts. "The Yankees actually offered me more money for a Triple-A contract," he said, "but all they would talk about was a guaranteed June 1 callup.
"It sounded to me like I was going to be an insurance policy," said Krueger. "I wasn't interested in that and I'd heard a lot of good things about the Twins.
"You have to accept the cards that are dealt you," Krueger said, rationalizing his negotiations during the off-season. "What it came down to was a chance to pitch for a world championship team. They told me they needed a No. 3 starter and that I'd get a chance. All I had was a [one-year] make-good contract."
Krueger remembers the Orioles being interested two years ago (when he left Milwaukee as a free agent), but not last year. "At one point they talked about a two-year deal [after 1990], but then they dropped out," said Krueger. "I don't remember that we talked to them at all last year."
But manager Johnny Oates remembers that the Orioles, who were in the market for pitchers and needed a left-hander, inquired about Krueger, but didn't like the terms. "He wanted $900,000 guaranteed -- $1.8 million for two years," said Oates. "That scared us off.
"He was still out there when we signed [Dennis] Rasmussen," said Oates. "If he had been a little more reasonable, we'd have been interested."
Not being willing to guarantee Krueger two years, given his history of injuries and inconsistency, is not hard to understand. But it is difficult to fathom that a left-hander coming off the year Krueger had, after several seasons of promise, could command only a Triple-A contract.
As it turned out, if Krueger's early season totals aren't a complete fluke, he'll be much better off than if he'd gotten what he asked for originally. Oates said he really didn't see anything last night that was different from what he'd seen the previous three years.
"It looks to me like he's got pretty good stuff," said Oates. "He throws the fastball, slider, change -- and he pitches ahead [in the count]. I don't see much difference in him."
Minnesota manager Tom Kelly probably sees a big difference -- because the Twins have hammered Krueger more than any team in the American League. Before last night's game, Krueger's earned run average in the Metrodome was 6.60, and he was 0-2 with a 13.50 ERA against the Twins last year.
"It was nice to come in here and pitch a good game," said Krueger, whose previous three wins had been on the road. "Somebody who's seen me pitch here before knows I wasn't around too long."
Not having to face the Twins' right-handed-heavy lineup is another bonus. "When we threw out what he'd done against us, we saw that he pitched pretty good against the rest of the league," said Kelly.