Lee Smith not ready to close out role

SIDELIGHT

August 10, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- When the Orioles have a one-run lead in the final inning of a game, either the starting pitcher gets the complete game or Lee Smith walks in ever so slowly from the bullpen.

For Orioles manager Johnny Oates, that decision had been as routine as writing Cal Ripken's name into the lineup.

But after Leo Gomez singled in a run in the 10th inning of Monday night's 6-5 loss to give the Orioles a one-run lead, Oates left Armando Benitez in the game, then replaced him with left-hander Jim Poole and right-hander Mark Eichhorn with the lead on the line.

Smith warmed up briefly but was told to sit down because he had the flu.

He got the call last night, though, and came through with his major-league-leading 33rd save. He gave up a leadoff single to Luis Polonia, who stole second and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt. But Smith got Bernie Williams and Wade Boggs on grounders to first to close out the game.

Smith, whose 434 saves is the all-time record, does not take orders to sit sitting down.

"I thought I could have pitched," Smith said of Monday night's game. "I couldn't have thrown any worse than I have been lately. If I waited until I was 100 percent to pitch, I would never pitch. I was willing to take my chances. I felt I had enough to try an inning."

Smith may have wanted to pitch Monday night, but he didn't criticize Oates for not letting him.

"I'm going to pitch and let J. O. manage," Smith said.

Smith is only signed through this season and the Orioles have not talked about a contract for next year.

Meanwhile, Oates has left Benitez in to face left-handed hitters in tight spots, grooming him for the closer role. "He's our projected closer for the future," Oates said of Benitez.

If the Orioles do not re-sign Smith, the future will become the present for Benitez in 1995, when he could share the late-inning role with Alan Mills and perhaps a hard-throwing left-hander if the Orioles can acquire one in the off-season.

If the strike wipes out the season, Smith will have led the majors in saves. What then?

"I want to pitch at least one more season, if anybody will have me," said Smith, 36.

When he is done playing baseball, he won't necessarily be done with baseball. He said he might like to coach on the amateur level, but does not have a desire to do so in professional baseball.

His knowledge, accomplishments, and personality give him pitching coach potential, but he has no interest in pursuing that field.

"They get fired too much," said Smith, who lives in Castor, La.

"You spend all of your time worrying about your job too much. I'd like to be a high school coach and work with kids before they get up to this level. I like to talk about pitching and I'd like to go back to where I live and work with kids there."

A BREAKDOWN

A look at Orioles closer Lee Smith's statistics in his first 32 appearances as compared with his numbers in his past nine games:

First 32

IP ... H ... R ... ER ... BB ... SO ... HR

30 ... 20 .. 7 ... 5 .. .. 5 ... 36 ... 3

Past nine

8 1/3 14 .. 9 ... 9 .. .. 6 ... 6 ... 3

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