Olson bats like otter out of water

KEN ROSENTHAL

July 22, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

The bat should go to the Hall of Fame. Rex Barney's introduction should be preserved on CD. Poems should be written to celebrate this historic moment, the day the Mighty Otter struck out.

Now batting, No. 30, Gregg Olson.

The 46,000 fans at Camden Yards roared in delight, embracing Olson in a way they rarely do when Barney presents him by saying, "Now pitching for the Orioles . . ."

Maybe Olson should try this more often.

He finally blows a save, then suffers an 8-6 loss, and all anyone wants to talk about is his hitting.

This was wackier than Jeff Stone's base running, zanier than Sam Horn's triple, and rarer than a Cal Ripken day off.

This, ladies and gentlemen, was history.

The Orioles had been the only American League team not to bat a pitcher since the inception of the designated hitter rule in 1973.

But yesterday, manager Johnny Oates put both his catchers in the lineup, triggering a chain reaction more complicated than a new tax law after Congress gets through with all of its amendments.

The result was the Otter waddling to the plate in the eighth, all decked out with Damon Buford's bat, Sherman Obando's helmet, and one batting glove each from Obando and Jack Voigt.

If history ever repeats -- and trust us, it won't -- Olson might want to pass on equipment from three rookies who have combined for 46 hits in their major-league careers.

Anyway, what follows is in great dispute.

These are the facts:

Oates summoned Olson to protect a 5-4 lead and two on and two out in the eighth. It had been almost two months since Olson had blown a save, but after a wild pitch and two-run infield single by pinch-hitter Hubie Brooks, the deed was done.

Now comes the good part.

Olson was scheduled to bat third in the Orioles' half. He seemed almost certain to be lifted for a pinch-hitter -- but then David Segui tied the score with a leadoff homer off rookie Billy Brewer.

It was fate, Brewer and Olson, like Romeo and Juliet.

The Royals held their breath and allowed the left-hander to face the right-handed swinger, who if nothing else, had played his college ball at Auburn with Bo Jackson and Frank Thomas.

Why not?

"When he came up," Brewer said, "he had that 'oh my gosh' look about him."

Olson said Oates told him not to swing, a logical suggestion considering that his star reliever had about as much chance of getting a hit as Jimmy Olson.

Besides, when was the last time Olson had batted?

"In a game?" he asked.

No, Gregg, at a backyard picnic.

"Senior year in high school?"

Upon further reflection, Olson determined it actually was his freshman year at Auburn.

Whatever, Oates was undaunted.

He claimed he told Olson to "air it out."

Alas, Olson took two called strikes, turning the crowd on plate umpire Tim Welke. Brewer followed with a ball (cheer), and then Olson ripped a pitch foul behind the Orioles' dugout (bigger cheer).

"I guess he had to swing when it got to two strikes," Brewer said, smiling.

But the 1-2 pitch. . .

"I thought it was down [low]," Olson said. "Welke just kind of laughed at me. I told him it was my first and last major-league AB, and he punched me out on a pitch that was down."

Brewer found Olson's version hilarious.

"Of course, he's going to think it's low," he said. "It might have been a pitcher's call. I can sympathize with that. I think the umpire might have been trying to get him out of there."

Not so, claimed Welke.

"It was a pretty good pitch," the umpire said. "I'm sure if he was pitching, he would have wanted that called a strike."

When he was pitching?

"That's not the point," Olson snapped.

Hey, Olson wasn't Brewer's only victim in the eighth -- the wily rookie also struck out Brady Anderson and Mark McLemore after the home run by Segui.

But the big out, of course, was Olson.

"Maybe they [the Royals] were trying to make me feel good," Brewer said. "But when I went in, they told me he was a pretty good hitter."

A what?

"They might have seen me in high school," Olson said. "I raked Tim Pugh, now pitching for the Cincinnati Reds."

Sure you did, Otter.

Now about that blown save . . .

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