Rallying relievers want Smith to save them some credit

NOTEBOOK

May 28, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Ken Rosenthal contributed to this article.

CHICAGO -- Lee Smith, who quietly became baseball's all-time saves leader without getting much recognition in the process, is having too huge a season not to garner headlines in every city he visits.

Each day when he arrives to the ballpark as late as possible, an out-of-town writer or three is waiting at his locker for an interview. Nineteen saves in 20 tries before June will have that effect.

Left-hander Jim Poole is wondering when the rest of the bullpen will get some of the credit for Smith's amazing numbers.

"You know if it weren't for the rest of us, he wouldn't be on that record pace," Poole said. "If it weren't for us blowing so many big leads early on, he wouldn't have had all those save opportunities.

L "I hope he puts us in his Cy Young Award acceptance speech."

Poole can joke about the early struggles of the bullpen now that the relief corps has turned it around.

In April, the bullpen was 2-3 with a 7.43 ERA and 12 home runs allowed in 46 innings.

In May, the bullpen is 4-1 with a 1.52 ERA and three home runs allowed in 59 1/3 innings.

The April/May ERAs tell only part of the story: Mark Eichhorn (7.11; 1.62); Alan Mills (17.55; 3.60); Poole (8.53, 0.00); Mark Williamson (5.40; 1.25).

The addition of rookie right-hander Mike Oquist (1-0, 0.69) and veteran left-hander Tom Bolton (0-0, 0.00), who spent April at Triple-A Rochester, also has helped.

In April, Poole said with confidence that things would improve.

"Of course I believed it," Poole said. "You look at everyone in our bullpen and you see that everyone has done it and done it recently."

The emergence of Eichhorn has made Smith happy. "I thought we were going to have to bury the old dude," Smith, 36, said of his 33-year-old teammate. "Once I start struggling these guys can pick me up."

Mr. Smiths, have a seat

Rookie Mark Smith and veteran Lonnie Smith share more than a last name. They also share a seat on the bench. Lonnie has made one start since May 9 and Mark has made one major-league start since being called up from Rochester May 11 to replace disabled right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds.

Jack Voigt's emergence -- he has driven in seven runs in seven games -- has left Mark Smith without playing time.

"I thought I would get some playing time and I'd like to play more, but Jack's playing well," Mark Smith said. "If I go back to Triple-A and get more time in, that's fine, too. Once I'm given a chance to play, I'm going to be here and I'm going to stay here. I don't have any doubt about that."

Orioles manager Johnny Oates said there is no timetable on a return for Hammonds, who has been receiving treatment for the strained ligament in his right knee at the Bennett Institute in Baltimore.

Miscellaneous

Where's the party? Frank Thomas celebrated his 26th birthday by going 3-for-4 with a double and his 18th home run. He's now 7-for-12 (.583) lifetime on his birthday with two doubles and a homer. . . . White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura left the game in the middle of the third inning with a muscle spasm in his lower back. He was replaced by Bob Zupcic, who made his second career appearance at third base. . . . Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro went 1-for-4 to reach base for the 32nd consecutive game. He has batted a relatively modest .295 in that time. . . . Mike Mussina is 43-18 lifetime, but only 1-4 against the White Sox. His .705 winning percentage is the second best among active pitchers behind Juan Guzman (44-16, .733).

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