Once he gets there, Smith is doing job

SIDELIGHT

April 15, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

DETROIT -- Four appearances into his Orioles career, closer Lee Smith has made at least two things clear: First, it takes him awhile to get to the mound. Second, he doesn't stay long once he gets there.

Finishing the job for Mike Mussina and Alan Mills in the Orioles' 3-1 win over Detroit at Tiger Stadium yesterday, Smith pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his fourth save in as many tries.

Smith froze Cecil Fielder for a called third strike, induced a grounder to short from Kirk Gibson and got Mickey Tettleton on a soft fly to left.

Smith, who had not pitched since Saturday, showed no rust in earning career save No. 405.

"I made some good pitches for not having pitched in a while," Smith said. "I always have good control, but when you take off four or five days you aren't the same."

Smith has retired all 10 batters he has faced.

"So much for the, 'They say he's losing it.' Who is they anyway?" Orioles second baseman Mark McLemore said. "Just once I would like to meet 'they.' "

Smith's shaky spring brought such concerns to the surface, but precision control and an improving fastball enabled Smith to become the first American League closer to earn his fourth save.

Smith has needed only 43 pitches to get those four saves. His last of 18 against the Tigers was not his best.

"Tettleton could have done something with that pitch," Smith said. "It was a slider down and in. I'm just fortunate he didn't get it all."

Smith calls himself a traditionally slow starter, though he took a 2.09 April ERA into this season.

"I have no idea why I'm off to a better start this year," Smith said. "I think I'm throwing the same way. They just aren't hitting it."

Smith, who used to awe opposing managers with his overpowering fastball, still impresses them, just in a different manner.

"He knows what he's doing, that guy," Tigers manager Sparky Anderson said. "You aren't dealing with no dummy when you're dealing with him. He knows exactly what he wants to do. He'll really help them."

Smith got the final three, but Mills was responsible for the Orioles' biggest out. Making his fourth appearance, Mills struck out Eric Davis to escape the eighth with the bases loaded. He has allowed just two of eight inherited runners to score.

Orioles manager Johnny Oates brought Mills in to face left-handed-hitting Lou Whitaker with two out and two runners aboard in the eighth. Mills' success against Whitaker, who is 0-for-9 against him, was only one reason for the decision to bring in Mills instead of left-hander Jim Poole. The presence of Travis Fryman's bat on the bench was the other reason.

"I don't know if Sparky would hit for Whitaker there, but I didn't want to take that chance," Oates said. "I'd rather have Alan face Whitaker than have Poole face Fryman. And the numbers said it was OK. I felt comfortable with the matchup."

Whitaker walked before Mills struck out Davis on three pitches.

Informed of Whitaker's numbers against him, Mills said: "He's a tough out for me anyway. It's been a hard 0-for-9."

Once Mills finished his job, Smith did his. Against him, the American League has gone 0-for-10 this season and Smith has made it look easy.

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