Between drops, durable McDonald reigns

INSIDE PITCH

June 13, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

Ben McDonald's durability, even more than his ample natural ability, proved to be the most crucial element for the Orioles in yesterday's 8-4 win over the Boston Red Sox.

Throwing 99 effective pitches over the course of eight innings is impressive. But to do so over a time span of almost five hours is testimony to the kind of physical resilience that is rarely in evidence. The 99 pitches McDonald threw yesterday almost certainly took as much out of him as 125 would during a more normal three-hour period.

A prolonged rain delay, such as the one McDonald and the Orioles endured in the final game of a three-game sweep over the Red Sox, is a pitcher's nightmare. More often than not his best stuff is left in the clubhouse, a casualty of excessive inactivity. That very often results in the ravaging of a pitching staff.

With an important four-game series against the division-leading New York Yankees on the horizon, Orioles manager Johnny Oates was eager to preserve his bullpen. He was allowed to do that because McDonald was able to pitch five strong innings after waiting out a two-hour delay that posed the biggest threat to the Orioles' five-run lead.

Despite giving up a home run to Andre Dawson, the second hitter he faced after play resumed, McDonald quickly regained control of the game. He returned to the mound with a devastating curveball that at times was unhittable -- and, even more important, with control good enough to restrict the number of pitches he had to throw.

The comfortable lead he enjoyed throughout the game undoubtedly had a positive effect on McDonald. However, conditions were ripe to squander the opportunity and put added burden on the bullpen.

It took only a few pitches for McDonald to reassert himself, the most important of which came immediately after Dawson's home run. When the Red Sox were shut down at that point, the big right-hander served notice that he was ready to take charge.

Having eight runs on the scoreboard was the most significant factor for the Orioles yesterday.

But having someone on the mound who could survive an intermission almost as long as the average length of games used to be, was equally important.

McDonald kept the long afternoon from being a lot longer -- and perhaps a lot less enjoyable.

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