NEW YORK -- Orioles pitching coach Mike Flanagan likes Mike Oquist, respects the way he goes about his business. When he got a chance, then, to serve as an advocate for Oquist yesterday, he did so.
Oquist was one out from finishing the seventh inning, but into his fifth inning of relief. The New York Yankees had runners on first and second, two outs, and with Oquist losing his sharpness, Orioles manager Phil Regan was thinking about lifting Oquist for Alan Mills or Jesse Orosco.
Flanagan asked Regan to leave him in, let him complete the inning. Regan went out to the mound, talked with Oquist briefly -- and left him in the game. Yankees first baseman Jim Leyritz then one-hopped the right-field wall with a double, and two runs scored, ruining an almost perfect line for Oquist.
But Flanagan and Regan praised Oquist, anyway, for his strong middle relief. The right-hander replaced Sid Fernandez in the third inning with the Orioles trailing 5-0, and he retired 12 straight hitters, before running into the seventh-inning jam.
"He pitched terrific," Flanagan said. "He cannot throw the ball any better than he did. He threw strikes, got lots of first-pitch outs and got the defense involved."
Regan said: "Mike pitched well again. He throws strikes and does a good job in the role we ask him to play."
Oquist is what is known as the long man -- when a starter flounders, as Fernandez did yesterday, Oquist comes in and "eats up innings," as he described it. He tries to keep the game relatively close and possibly enable the Orioles to come back.
Like most of the Orioles' relievers, Oquist was hit around in the first week or so. He allowed three runs in his first appearance of the year, and allowed six of his first nine inherited runners to score.
But Oquist has pitched well since: He's given up runs in just two of his last seven appearances and rolled back his ERA to 2.79.
In doing so, Oquist has ascended from being the clearly defined bTC No. 12 pitcher on a 12-man staff to No. 10 or No. 11, a very important development because the Orioles will soon reduce their staff to 11.
"If I wasn't throwing well," Oquist said, "something would've happened to me by now."
Flanagan said he has always liked Oquist, for his approach to pitching and his work ethic. "He's more of the blue-collar pitcher," Flanagan said. "Nothing flashy -- he just comes in and gets the job done."
Manto impressive again
Jeff Manto started at third base for the fourth consecutive day yesterday and made a series of nice plays. Regan acknowledged that he's been surprised by Manto's defense.
Manto is hitting, as well. In his four starts, he is 7-for-15 with four RBIs. So is he the regular third baseman?
Regan paused and said, "I'll say this -- he's playing pretty well."
And if he keeps on playing effectively?
' "He plays," Regan said.
Regan happy to have Moyer
The Orioles bullpen pitched one-hit ball over the last six innings Friday night, including 3 1/3 good innings from Jamie Moyer, who has been dangled as trade bait in recent weeks.
Yesterday morning, Regan talked about how useful Moyer is because he can relieve and start. "I'm not unhappy with having Jamie Moyer on this team," Regan said. "A lot of teams are looking for an extra starter, and we have one."
Around the horn
In '94 and '95, the Yankees bullpen was 68-1 when leading after eight innings. Then Brady Anderson hit a three-run homer against John Wetteland Friday night, and the Yankees were 68-2. . . . By holding the Orioles without a homer yesterday, the Yankees broke a string of 17 straight games in which they allowed at least one homer. The major-league record is 18, set by the Kansas City Royals in 1979. . . . Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken has one hit in his last 12 at-bats. . . . Matt Nokes, starting at catcher, went 0-for-3 and lowered his batting average to .077. . . . Regan said he hadn't yet considered whether Fernandez or Arthur Rhodes will be skipped the next time through the pitching rotation. Kevin Brown and Mike Mussina will start the first two games in Oakland. . . . The Orioles' latest counteroffer on a three-year deal with Mussina was $9.85 million. The two sides continue to talk.
YANKEES' KEY ON DL
The New York Yankees placed pitcher Jimmy Key on the 15-day disabled list yesterday with inflammation of the rotator cuff tendon in his left shoulder.
"It's like a dull pain in my shoulder that won't go away. It's just a constant ache at my release point, I have a pain that goes down my arm to my bicep," Key said. "As much as I tried to block it out, I couldn't. I tried today to throw, [but] it's basically the same."
Key, 1-2 with a 5.64 ERA, has pitched 30 1/3 innings in his five starts this season. He had shoulder surgery last October.
Yankees manager Buck Showalter, who also has pitcher Scott Kamieniecki on the disabled list, was discouraged by the news.
"I don't think you can view it as positive any time you lose a pitcher like Jimmy Key," said Showalter.
Key had eight more wins than any other Yankees starter last year, going 17-4 with a 3.27 ERA.