He stood in front of his locker, his entire waist wrapped tightly with ace bandages. Minutes earlier Gregg Olson was doubled over in pain and forced to leave the game after throwing just five pitches in the ninth inning of the 5-3 win over the Chicago White Sox, but now the Orioles ace reliever was bravely trying to crack a smile over what might be a crucial blow to the team's season.
"I'm an optimist," Olson said calmly, describing the injury as just a cramp.
But that won't be known until sometime today, when Olson will be examined by Dr. Charles Silberstein. There is some concern that the injury may be a strain to the left lateral oblique, the muscle that connects the ribs to the pelvis -- the same injury that troubled Ben McDonald two years ago and forced Mark Williamson to the disabled list late last season. If serious, it could force Olson to miss some or all of the key series against the Minnesota Twins that starts tonight.
"He thinks it's a cramp, and that's what we're hoping it'll be," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates after the game. "We just don't know."
If it winds up being more than a cramp, the Orioles will find themselves on shaky ground as they try to gain ground on the Toronto Blue Jays, who hold a four-game lead in the East, before the All-Star break.
Olson was pitching to Chicago centerfielder Lance Johnson to start the ninth when he doubled over in pain as he threw a strike on a pitch that ran the count to 3-2. After a delay of several minutes Olson attempted a warm-up pitch, but again doubled over in pain forcing him to leave the game much to the concern of his teammates and a hushed sellout crowd.
"I felt it a little on the 2-1 pitch," Olson said. "Then I felt everything all at once grab. I still feel it a little."
With Olson not able to go after throwing just five pitches, Todd Frohwirth came on in relief. Surprised as much as anyone of the events that occurred, a cold Frohwirth surrendered a base hit to Johnson but settled down to get the next three hitters, including a strikeout of pinch hitter Warren Newson to end the game.
It was a huge win for the Orioles, who avoided dropping five games behind the Blue Jays. The big hit of the game came off the bat of Joe Orsulak who, with one out in the eighth, hit a solo home run on a 2-2 pitch from Charlie Hough that barely cleared the rightfield wall and broke a 3-3 tie. The Orioles later got an insurance run on a two-out RBI single by Brady Anderson (2-for-4, and a walk) off of Chicago reliever Terry Leach.
The two late runs came after the Orioles spent much of the night being frustrated by the knuckleball-throwing Hough. After giving two runs in the first, including a solo home run by Glenn Davis (his sixth), Hough -- who was turned back in his second bid for his 200th career win -- settled down and kept the Baltimore hitters confused for much of the night.
"That's the way I've seen Charlie pitch for ages," Oates said of Hough, who allowed four earned runs and eight hits, and struck out five in 7 2/3 innings. "He just keeps throwing knuckleball after knuckleball after knuckleball. If it gets late in the game and he doesn't throw that knuckleball, you're just standing there. He struck out [Cal Ripken] with a 68 mile-per-hour fastball."
Orioles starter Mike Mussina didn't have his best stuff, but he was able to survive two rain delays to shut down the White Sox for the first four innings. His one big mistake of the night proved costly as Mussina (9-3, no decision) gave up a two-run home run to White Sox catcher Ron Karkovice with none out in the fifth that tied the game at 2.
"I could throw a lot better," Mussina said. "My stuff was just fair after the rain delay."
The Orioles took back the lead with an unearned run in the sixth. Bill Ripken reached on an error by third basemen Robin Ventura, and scored when Jeff Tackett (2-for-3, one RBI) hit a slicing triple into the leftfield corner. But Mussina's penchant for throwing wild pitches at big stages of games would give the run right back in the seventh. After Steve Sax led off with a single and reached second on a sacrifice, he advanced to third on a wild pitch by Mussina. Karkovice then hit a sacrifice fly that tied the score at 3.
"That always comes up," Mussina said of the wild pitch. "I just have to keep it from coming up in big spots."
But this would be the night that the Orioles, who have suffered lately from leaving runners stranded in key situations, would come through. With Hough seemingly in command in the eighth, Orsulak deposited a knuckleball into the first row of the rightfield bleachers. For Orsulak, who has hit in eight straight games and is 23-for-58 (.396) in his last 14 games, it was just his second home run of the year.
"Joe Orsulak has played as well as anybody in the American League this past month," Oates said.