Dempsey, Flanagan close out game, maybe O's careers

BATTERY'S LAST CHARGE

September 28, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

It seems that everyone at Camden Yards was in on the significance of the moment yesterday but Boston Red Sox reliever Joe Hesketh, who wouldn't let Rick Dempsey leave Baltimore covered in glory.

Surely, by the time Dempsey and Mike Flanagan entered the desultory 6-1 Orioles loss in the eighth inning, there was precious little left for the 45,597 to hang around for.

But then Dempsey and Flanagan arrived, becoming the oldest battery in Orioles history. They already were one of the most successful as an important part of the 1983 World Series titlists and the 1979 American League championship team.

And here, in the next-to-last home game of what could be their final seasons, they were getting a last bow together.

Dempsey was wishing for a home run, but grounded to second, no thanks to Hesketh. Dempsey said the Red Sox left-hander playfully had indicated he might give him something easy to hit, but instead threw nasty off-speed pitches.

Flanagan, however, did his part, pitching two shutout innings, including a dazzling strikeout of Boston's Wade Boggs, who had four hits in four previous trips.

Those two innings were closer to what Orioles fans remember of Flanagan than what he's done this year.

Flanagan, 40, the Cy Young Award winner in 1979 who retired the last visitor in the final game at Memorial Stadium last year, hasn't been so memorable this season.

After a brilliant 1991, Flanagan, who needs just two victories to tie Mike Cuellar for third place on the Orioles' all-time win list at 143, has been roughed up this season, with an ERA of 8.05.

The Orioles had hoped that, with Jim Poole out for much of the season with arm trouble, Flanagan would be able to fill in as the situational left-hander who could either work long relief or pitch to a particularly tough left-handed hitter.

But Flanagan was rocked in a couple of appearances, including a particularly harsh game in Detroit in mid-June in which he allowed eight earned runs in one inning, and as a result, his role was de-emphasized.

"Last year, I learned how you can hold a groove with regular work. This year, I didn't," said Flanagan.

Flanagan said he didn't believe his skills had deteriorated to where he still couldn't be effective, and said he would wait until the end of the season to determine his and the Orioles' plans.

That left Dempsey, who had quietly been activated before the game by the Orioles' front office, specifically to give him a chance to bask in the crowd's glow one final time.

Manager Johnny Oates said, "He appreciated it. You don't want to make a joke of the game. I didn't want people to second-guess my decision to put them in. They were going to get in either [yesterday or tonight].

Ever the showman, Dempsey pointed to the left-field stands, a la Babe Ruth, to indicate that his final Baltimore hit would be a home run.

"I had to point to left field, because I knew I couldn't hit it to center [where Ruth hit his]," said Dempsey.

At any rate, the man who caught more games than anyone else in an Orioles uniform, said Hesketh had indicated he was going to give him a fastball, but instead threw a slider.

"I knew then that he was serious about this," said Dempsey, 43.

Dempsey slapped a pitch up the middle off Hesketh's leg, and for a moment, it appeared that he would cap his dream run with the Orioles with a hit to drive in a run.

Alas, second baseman Jody Reed gathered in the grounder and threw out Dempsey, but that only triggered an ovation nearly as loud as the standing ovations Dempsey received when he came to catch in the top of the eighth, and when he walked to the plate.

"I certainly wasn't deserving of all the ovation these folks have given me. No one can tell me Baltimore fans aren't the best in the world," said Dempsey.

The future for Dempsey is a little less murky than it is for Flanagan.

Dempsey nearly made the club out of spring training after he was released by Milwaukee after last season, but became a special instructor with the club.

He was activated June 22, after Chris Hoiles was placed on the disabled list with a broken wrist. Dempsey played in eight games and made 11 plate appearances with one hit and two walks before he was released on July 31.

Dempsey will meet with Orioles' officials on the coming road trip, but he all but conceded that he won't be back with the team as a player next season unless the Orioles lose either Jeff Tackett or Mark Parent in November's expansion draft and he gets invited to spring training.

If he isn't asked to play, Dempsey, who is 14th on the all-time list for games behind the plate, hopes to be offered a managerial slot in the Orioles' minor-league organization.

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