Sweep is a relief in more ways than one

INSIDE PITCH

May 26, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

There's no denying that the series they just completed in Milwaukee was a relief for the Orioles. In more ways than one.

It was vital that they not stumble against a team that now has lost 14 in a row. Especially after starting a nine-game road trip by losing two of three to the division-leading New York Yankees.

Equally important is that the much-maligned middle relievers have stepped up. Despite yesterday's scare in the ninth inning, when the Brewers scored once off Jamie Moyer and brought the potential winning run to the plate with one out, the relievers have played a major role in helping to reverse a skid that produced seven losses in eight games.

During the first six games of the road trip, relievers have averaged four innings. They have responded by pitching to an 0.75 ERA (two runs in 24 innings -- both coming in the 6-5, 10-inning win over the New York Yankees on Sunday).

Even before this stretch, the Orioles had allowed the fewest runs in the American League (the Yankees since have taken over that position, 191-194). However, that was primarily because the starters were consistently pitching effectively for seven innings or more.

In order to remain in contention in the competitive AL East, the Orioles eventually were going to need more help from the bullpen, especially the middle relievers. Those who make their living in that precarious position said it was only a matter of time before the numbers started to reflect drastic improvement.

It remains to be seen if the current run is the real thing, but there have been some encouraging developments in that regard. Mark Eichhorn, counted on to fill a major role, had his best outing of the year two nights ago. He was most responsible for giving the Orioles a chance to stage an unlikely comeback from a five-run deficit for a 13-5 win.

Alan Mills, perhaps the bullpen's most important occupant with the exception of Lee Smith, has gotten his ERA below double digits with a couple of impressive performances. Left-hander Tom Bolton thus far has been a revelation as the second left-hander in the bullpen.

And if Mike Oquist can be even close to as effective as a starter as he has been as a reliever, he might even be able to put the Andy Benes trade rumors to rest.

The Orioles are hardly out of the woods. After all, it was the Milwaukee Brewers they played the past three days. Those were three games, by any form of measurement other than the law of averages, that the Orioles were supposed to win.

Still, it was a relief to get them out of the way.

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