UNRELIEVABLE For O's Olson, 'Right now is not an easy time'

May 04, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

Gregg Olson has been known to wear his emotions on his sleeve, but these days he's wearing them on his chest as well. Or at least on the front of the red T-shirt he wears under his Orioles uniform.

It reads, "I apologize for not being perfect, but I am really trying."

Olson's perceived imperfection on the pitching mound so far this season has created more than just a little quandary for Orioles manager Johnny Oates and has left more than just a little bitterness lingering inside the 26-year-old reliever.

Although Olson has calmed down considerably since being temporarily removed from his role as the team's closer less than two weeks ago, he is still bothered by the what-have-you-done-for-us-lately mentality of Orioles fans.

"It's been tough on me," Olson said last week, sitting in the solitude of the Orioles clubhouse at Camden Yards. "I'm trying to do as well as I can, staying with what I know how to do. The team's been struggling. Right now is not an easy time."

With four victories in their last five games going into a six-game road trip to Minnesota and Toronto, there are signs that the struggle for the Orioles is over -- or at least on hold.

But is Olson's?

With a scintillating performance Friday night against the Kansas City Royals, which resulted with his fifth save in seven tries this season, Olson showed indications that he was getting back to the form that enabled him to become the youngest reliever to reach the 100-save mark.

"The feeling going out there was tough to explain," recalled Olson, who came in with runners on first and third, one out in the eighth, and the Orioles ahead by one run. "It was almost a no-win situation."

Olson struck out Kevin McReynolds and Brent Mayne, then watched the Orioles score six runs in the bottom of the inning en route to a 12-5 victory. Despite the positive step, Olson is still uncertain about his role.

For now, he remains part of the closer-by-committee approach Oates has been taking since relieving Olson of his full-time duties. Olson said he feels ready to reassume his role as the team's No. 1 and only closer.

"I don't know what it's done for the situation," Olson said of his two-inning stint Friday. "But at least I know I threw the ball well."

Olson isn't merely trying to reclaim the job he has held since 1989, when he saved his first 15 opportunities (27 of 33 overall) and was a near-unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year in the American League.

He is trying to get a firmer grasp on his future. It seemed to go from bright to blight earlier this season. First there was the home run by the Texas Rangers' Doug Strange that broke up a 1-1 tie in Olson's first appearance of the season. Then, after picking up his first save on April 10 at Seattle, Olson sandwiched two blown saves around three successful attempts.

"It doesn't make for a whole lot of of fun," said Olson, who had at one point failed to get the first batters he faced seven straight times (6-for-7 with a walk). "I hold myself to a higher standard than that [four saves, two blown]. But that's the way my life is. I have to deal with it. I can't please everybody, so I quit trying."

Said Oates: "For this team to win, Gregg Olson has to save some games. I am confident that he will do that."

Like most short relievers, Olson teeters along a clearly defined line between success and failure. While hitters can have great years if they fail seven out of 10 times, closers are dealing with a completely reversed ratio.

In Olson's case, the numbers he put up his first four years place him on even a higher plane. Coming into this season, Olson had converted 131 of 158 save opportunities. His career success rate with the winning or tying run either at bat or on base -- 71 percent -- equaled that of American League relievers in all save situations last season.

"He created a monster, no doubt about it," is the way his father, Bill, a nationally respected high school baseball coach in Omaha, Neb., put it last week. "He's the same person, the same pitcher, he's been the last four years. But all a sudden, instead of being a standout, he's the guilty party."

This is not a question of guilt or innocence. It goes a lot deeper than that. In a game where egos and futures are as fragile as pieces of china and crystal, Olson's position and personal makeup led him dangerously close to the precipice a couple of weeks ago.

Even in the best of times, Olson has had trouble with his curveball and his confidence. By his estimate, it has happened ++ once a season since he reached the big leagues. Each time he straightened himself out.

But this struggle has been the most difficult.

"Most of the time it's been mental," Olson said. "I went into a little [bad] streak. Only in my position does it get blown out of proportion."

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