Workhorse Myers offers missing link

ON BASEBALL

March 10, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Roberto Alomar brings the best in defense and offense to the Orioles, David Wells and Kent Mercker bolster the rotation and B. J. Surhoff is a terrific hitter who should force opposing teams to pitch to Bobby Bonilla.

But the Orioles' most critical off-season acquisition was Randy Myers, who is the linchpin for this team. He will be the difference between success and failure for the Orioles this year.

Alomar could be an offensive disappointment, and the Orioles could win. Wells and Mercker could be mediocre, and this team could win. Surhoff could bat .260, and this team could win. If

Myers falters . . . problems.

The Orioles could well lack bullpen depth. Beyond setup men Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell, they have Alan Mills, coming back from shoulder surgery, and Armando Benitez, who will be brought along slowly.

If Myers is a bust, there is no serious backup plan. Orosco or McDowell could play the role of closer, but neither has been asked to do that in this decade. The Orioles asked Benitez to shoulder a heavy burden last year, and he buckled.

Myers is the man, and he is aware there are questions about his performance with the Cubs last year, when he had a 5.61 ERA after the All-Star break. "A lot of people say stuff about that," he said. "Look at the numbers."

He's not talking about ERA. He's talking about saves -- 38, a National League high -- and save chances, 44. "I don't really concern myself about earned run average," he said. "A lot of that happened when I came into a game maybe a little earlier than [expected], when I was being brought in because something else in the bullpen wasn't going right. I walk a couple of guys, somebody gets a hit and suddenly I've got a couple of earnies charged to me.

"I've got a job to do, and my job is saving games . . . not keeping my earned run average down."

Orioles general manager Pat Gillick suggested last week that the Cubs may have used Myers too much, bringing him into situations when he shouldn't have pitched, warming him up too often. Myers doesn't agree. He'd like to know ahead of time what his role is going to be, and his role with the Cubs was to protect leads. Not just in the ninth, but in the eighth, ninth or 10th, and he wanted the ball.

Chicago manager Jim Riggleman said he often told Myers to take a day off, and lo and behold, the eighth inning of a close game would occur that afternoon and Riggleman would look up and Myers would be throwing on his own, implicitly begging to pitch.

"You have to ask the reliever how he feels," Myers said. "There will be some days when he'll tell you he can throw to one or two hitters if you need him, to get out of a jam. And if you're in a pennant race, you're going to want to throw [even when tired]."

If the Orioles are in a pennant race, Myers will be a big reason for their success. If they aren't, Myers probably will have a lot to do with that, too. The onus of a closer.

Dunston rips Sandberg

Former Cubs shortstop Shawon Dunston might be the only one who isn't excited about the return of Ryne Sandberg. Dunston slammed his former double-play partner last week.

"I didn't like that he didn't dive for balls," said Dunston, now with the Giants. "If I play hard and [Mark] Grace plays hard, you should play hard. That, to me, I don't like. . . . If Ryno opens up and is the leader that he is and can be, the Cubs will have a good year. If Ryno goes off to his old Ryno self, not talking to anybody, I don't think the team is going to do any good."

* Fame found Turk Wendell when the Cubs pitcher chewed licorice between innings, leaped over the third base line and brushed his teeth between innings. All those antics are history, however; Riggleman told Wendell that stuff would only serve as a distraction.

* This is the last year in the four-year contracts signed by Houston's Doug Drabek and Greg Swindell, deals that prevented the Astros from hanging on to Steve Finley and Ken Caminiti and, in a roundabout way, cut into the team's attendance. If the Astros move after this season, those contracts will be looked upon as the beginning of the end for the team in Houston.

Right about Knight

Remember what Davey Johnson said when asked about how Ray Knight would fare as manager of the Reds? Johnson suggested that patience could be a problem with the intense Knight, and that's proving to be the case.

Four games into spring training, Knight declared Chris Sabo as the front-runner to be his third baseman over longtime prospect/suspect Willie Greene. There have been times this spring when Knight's evaluation of players has changed day to day, based on the player's most recent performance, a dangerous practice.

Conversely, Johnson has been fending off reporters' questions about his players for a month, saying as long as he doesn't commit to anything in print, he'll be OK. "That way, you guys won't come back to me and say, 'Well, a week ago, you said . . .' "

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