Rick Sutcliffe's needle was poised and prickly when he strolled past Gregg Olson's locker stall yesterday afternoon.
Olson had just notched his 100th career save in record time, preserving the Orioles' 8-6 victory over the Seattle Mariners. Now, as the young reliever spoke with reporters, Sutcliffe broke into the conversation.
Sutcliffe: "He may be the youngest, but he doesn't look like the youngest."
Olson: "That's why I wear the hat."
Sutcliffe: "Somebody better check the birth certificate."
The birth certificate says Olson was born Oct. 11, 1966. And now the record book says Olson is the youngest pitcher in major-league history to ring up 100 saves. At 25 years and 204 days old, Olson beat out Bruce Sutter, who got his 100th when he was 26 years and 224 days old.
Olson greeted the milestone -- and the good-natured banter with Sutcliffe -- with equal parts bemusement and pride. He wore a hat and a smile, the hat hiding his thinning hair.
"It's nice to have," Olson said of the record. "When you look at the guys who have done that, and to be the youngest, it means something. It means I was in the right place at the right time. Others had to dwell under another closer. When I came in, they didn't have another closer."
As luck would have it, Olson got save No. 99 in Saturday night's 4-2 win over the Mariners -- a game he saved for Sutcliffe, no less. About 18 hours later, he was back on the mound trying to rescue a game for Mike Mussina, a game that was fast getting away from the Orioles bullpen.
Seattle had trimmed the Orioles' lead to 7-6 in the eighth, and had chased not only Mussina, but also Todd Frohwirth and Mike Flanagan in the process. With runners on first and second and one out, Olson came on to face pinch hitter Pete O'Brien.
Four pitches later, the Orioles were out of the jam, and their joy ride was extended for another glorious day.
Olson struck out O'Brien on three pitches -- all sinkers, Olson's new pet pitch this season. The last one was up and in on O'Brien, who hacked feebly at strike three. Then Olson got ninth hitter Rich Amaral to ground into a fielder's choice at second to end the threat.
In the ninth, only Henry Cotto reached base, on Tim Hulett's second error of the game. Olson got Harold Reynolds to ground out, Edgar Martinez (two triples among his three hits for the day) to fly out and slugger Kevin Mitchell to look at a called third strike. Mitchell went down on three pitches -- all curveballs on the outside part of the plate.
It took Olson 15 pitches to dispatch the Mariners, 13 of them strikes, and only four of them curveballs. The rest were sinkers, a variation on the fastball that breaks the opposite way from Olson's four-seam fastball.
Afterward, pitching coach Dick Bosman talked about how hard Olson had worked to perfect the pitch that has made him almost unhittable again.
"When you get to 100 saves that quickly on pure ability," Bosman said, "you've got a lot to look forward to."
Olson's reputation as a two-pitch pitcher -- fastball, curveball -- had presented something less than a guessing game for opposing hitters by the time Bosman arrived after last season.
"On days you don't have the curve, you're stuck with one pitch that goes straight," Bosman said. "Then you've got a chance to get beat up.
"Now, he's got two fastballs -- one that goes one way, one that goes the other -- and a curveball that goes straight down.
"What's he becoming? He's becoming a pitcher. . . . A lot of young pitchers overpower hitters with one pitch. But how long do they last?"