Stifling Orioles makes Nelson feel right at home

August 19, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

Just say that Seattle Mariners manager Bill Plummer did Jeff Nelson no favors last night.

First, Plummer plunked Nelson, Seattle's leading reliever, right smack into the midst of trouble, a one-run lead in the bottom of the eighth with the heart of the Oriole lineup coming up, and told him to get the Mariners out of it.

Then, after Nelson, a mere rookie, walked Cal Ripken with 45,200 screaming fans surrounding him and his family watching, Plummer ordered him not to be nervous.

Nelson wasn't exactly compliant with Plummer's orders. Oh, he did choke off the Orioles' threat, notching his third career save in Seattle's 8-3 win at Oriole Park.

But Nelson did let the Orioles, who lost their third straight and fell four games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East, see him sweat.

How could he avoid it? Not only was he facing Ripken, Glenn Davis, Randy Milligan and Leo Gomez -- all capable of tying the score on one swing -- but he was in front of the home folks, a group of whom occupied spots in front of the Camden Yards press box.

Whew!

"I was very nervous coming in," said Nelson, who graduated from Catonsville High in 1984. "He [Plummer] told me to just throw the ball. I was thinking about who I had to face. I mean, you had Cal and Davis and Milligan and Gomez and all of those guys can hurt you. Luckily, things just worked out."

"I just told him to calm down," said Plummer. "Just because you're at home doesn't matter. Just get them out."

Nelson, who bounced around the minors until this season, complied, though it wasn't easy.

Seattle starter Dave Fleming, who earned his 14th win, tops among major-league rookies, pitched effectively for seven innings, but surrendered a two-run homer to Mike Devereaux in the eighth with one out to narrow the gap to 4-3.

Enter Nelson, who promptly walked Ripken. He then struck out Davis, who flailed weakly at a nasty off-speed pitch. Then came Milligan, who got behind in the count 0-2, then worked his way on with a walk.

"I thought I struck Milligan out a couple of times, but I guess that was the way he [home plate umpire Al Clark] had been calling them all night," said Nelson, who came to Seattle from the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1986 in the Rule V draft.

Then came Gomez, who had been hitting .429 in his last four games, with four three-run homers in his last 29 games.

Nelson delivered two balls to Gomez with the first two pitches, then battled and struck out the third baseman looking on a beautiful pitch on the outside corner.

If past performance is any guide, Nelson, 25, was likely nervous in last night's situation, because he has been dazzling for the last-place Mariners.

Nelson leads the team in appearances (47), is second to Fleming in era (3.41) and, in the last six days, has earned two saves and his first major-league win, over Minnesota on Sunday.

"It's great to get that win, especially when you're a reliever and you come in in situations like I do," said Nelson.

"He's pitched as well as anybody we've had in the bullpen. I thought the umpire squeezed him with Milligan, but he went through that and got the guy [Gomez] out on a great pitch," said Plummer.

And Nelson even got involved in his first brush-back controversy. After Storm Davis, who came on in relief of Orioles starter Ben McDonald, gave up a monstrous home run to Ken Griffey and walked Tino Martinez in the ninth, he hit the next batter, Jay Buhner, on the hand.

When Chris Hoiles, playing in his first game in nearly two months after he was struck on the wrist by a Tim Leary pitch in a June 23rd game against the Yankees, came to the plate to lead off the last of the ninth, Nelson uncorked a pitch that sailed a foot behind Hoiles and hit the screen in back of the plate.

That appeared to be a "message" pitch, and Hoiles glared at the mound, while players on the Oriole bench rose as if to join their catcher if he attacked Nelson.

When asked about the incident, Nelson grinned sheepishly and, at first, offered that the pitch had "just slipped."

Upon further review, Nelson said he "might have been sending a message" and, in timeless baseball fashion, then said the pitch was "just a part of the game."

Orioles manager Johnny Oates wasn't convinced.

"All I know is that Storm wasn't throwing at Buhner and it sure looked like Nelson threw at Hoiles. I just had a pitcher thrown out of a ballgame [Pat Clements, who was ejected Sunday at Kansas City] for doing the same thing," said Oates.

Whatever the case, Nelson, who was mildly nibbled at by the Orioles coming out of Catonsville, sent the entire American League the message that he's around to stay.

Orioles tonight

Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Time: 7:35

Mariners starter: Mark Grant (1-3, 3.81)

Orioles starter: Arthur Rhodes (4-2, 3.54)

TV: Home Team Sports

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)

Tickets: Scattered single seats remain, not including 275 standing-room tickets that go on sale when the gates open.

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