In rare jam, Key subtly turns on power


June 17, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

If you play the word association game and Jimmy Key's name comes up, it becomes a multiple-choice quiz.

Wily . . . finesse . . . guile . . . cunning . . . unflappable -- they all fit. They just don't tell the complete story.

Think of Key and you get a vision of someone who deals with

off-speed stuff, a variety of pitches and impeccable control. The veteran left-hander is not identified with power.

Which can be a mistake, as the Orioles found out last night. Not that they were overpowered. Mesmerized is more like it.

But when the Orioles had their one opportunity last night, Key stopped them with the one thing that was unexpected -- power. It wasn't a series of 90-mph fastballs that did them in -- but make no mistake, it was the oldest and best pitch in baseball that kept the scoreboard bare.

Trailing 2-0, the Orioles put runners on first and third with nobody out in the fifth inning, courtesy of singles by Chris Hoiles and Tim Hulett. The table was set to re-start the contest, which was Key's signal to reach for something extra.

He did it rather impressively -- and relied on nothing but fastballs. The inning's Key pitch, no pun intended, may have been one that was up and away, out of the strike zone.

It was delivered on a 1-and-1 count to Jack Voigt, who wasn't fooled enough to resist a late swing. Now in a 1-and-2 hole, and obviously thrown out of sync, Voigt fouled off a pitch and then took a fastball on the inner part of the plate for the third strike.

Brady Anderson was next, and after two fastballs the Yankees were back on the bench with their two-run lead intact, having turned a quick and easy double play to end the inning.

From that point on, with his lead growing, Key reverted back to form, mixing down-and-in curveballs with low-and-away sinkers. He had cleared the only serious hurdle he faced all night.

Key actually planted the fastball seed early -- on his third pitch of the game, not the one that drilled Anderson in the back to start the bottom of the first inning. After Chris Sabo fouled off an attempt to bunt for a base hit, Key sent a take-charge message -- a no-tricks intended fastball over the inner half of home plate for a called strike.

Using his entire assortment, Key wasn't seriously threatened again until the fifth inning. At that point, he re-introduced the fastball and from that point on it was just another day at the office.

Key has started 15 games, and he's left only one with the Yankees on the short end of the score. He is 10-1, including a 5-0 record after the Yankees had lost the previous game. Of the five games the Yankees won on their just completed 11-game road trip, he won three of them.

All with finesse -- and just a -- of power.

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