Orioles' newest closer an eye-opener

April 03, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

Seeing as how the Orioles switch closers even more often than managers, we've been there, done that, with virtually every variation in the breed.

We've seen a brilliant young talent injure his arm and fade from glory (Gregg Olson).

We've seen a crafty veteran defy his critics and add to his Hall of Fame credentials (Lee Smith).

And we've seen an aging slop-baller change the course of a season by blowing a four-run lead (Doug Jones).

That's quite a variety, in just three years' time.

And still, we've never seen anyone like Randy Myers.

Only Myers would position his outfielders in his first American League appearance.

Only Myers could recover from a rocky spring by pitching a 1-2-3 ninth in the season opener.

And only Myers would cause his manager to joke that the Secret Service gave his locker a special inspection to make sure the president was safe.

"I hear Randy Myers' locker got a good going-over," Davey Johnson said. "They took a couple of stun guns out of there, and a gas mask."

"Nah," Myers said. "There was nothing in there."

Whatever, Myers is 1-for-1 after yesterday's 4-2 victory, which is more than can be said for Jones, who blew his first save chance for the Chicago Cubs on Monday.

You almost can't judge the Orioles' new closer by his 10-pitch save against the Royals, a team that pinch hit for its third, fourth and fifth hitters on Opening Day.

Still, a win is a win.

And, heaven knows, a save is a save.

Myers is a major improvement over Jones, that much was obvious from the nasty 0-2 slider he threw Les Norman for a called third strike.

Jesse Orosco, Myers' former teammate with the New York Mets, said the pitch was "too pretty" to call a ball.

Catcher Gregg Zaun said: "He brought it from a half a foot outside, right onto the corner. Nobody hits that pitch, unless you're looking for it."

Myers seemed less impressed.

"It was an OK slider," he said. "I didn't think it was anything special."

So, how good is he?

Well, he converted only seven of 12 saves in one-run games last season. He posted an ugly 5.61 ERA after the All-Star break. But he also led the National League with 38 saves.

Johnson will use him correctly, perhaps even spell him with Armando Benitez. And the Orioles might be potent enough offensively to turn one-run leads into more comfortable margins, as they did in the eighth inning yesterday.

Already, the difference in this club is obvious. Last year, the Orioles went hitless for 6 2/3 innings against Kevin Appier in the season opener. Yesterday, they scored twice off him in the first inning.

A team this good, with a manager this good, can smooth over its rough edges. Myers, 33, might not be as dominant as in the past. But unless he suddenly loses his fastball, it's reasonable to expect that he will succeed.

And if he doesn't?

He'll be interesting, that's for sure.

There was Myers yesterday, stepping off the mound to position Mike Devereaux in right field. Not exactly ordinary behavior for a closer -- especially one in a new league.

"I like it -- so I could get a good laugh out of it," center fielder Brady Anderson said. "I'm like, 'C'mon, Randy, move me.' I'm always looking for him now.

"He came and told me the first day he was going to do that. I didn't know what the heck he was talking about. But it's fine with me. If he knows where they're going to hit him, I'm better off."

Myers believes he does know where opponents are going to hit him -- even ones he never faced before. Why argue? This is a guy with a pre- and post-game workout regimen, a guy who arrives at 9: 30 a.m. for a 3: 05 p.m. start.

"I do it based on the reports I've gotten, the tendencies, what the catcher feels," Myers said. "It's not so much of where I'm going to pitch the guy. It's to where, when the guys hit me, the majority of hits go."

Zaun, for one, loves the way Myers takes control.

"He's a little different than anyone else," said the Orioles' backup catcher, who replaced Chris Hoiles in the eighth inning. "He really, really has an idea of what he wants to do, where he wants you to sit, what he wants to throw.

"Every once in a while you'll be catching a guy who doesn't have an idea of what he wants. Randy lumbers in from the bullpen, shoulders hunched all over. He gets the sign and he's ready to go."

No question, Myers has his idiosyncrasies -- the stun guns, the camouflage attire, even the sock he wears as a headband during workouts. But Johnson is accustomed to managing teams with big personalities. He lets the players have their fun.

Myers reported to spring training eight days after the other pitchers and catchers, but Johnson didn't make an issue of it. Yesterday, Myers joined his teammates late for stretching, and Orosco joked, "That's one of about 60 more."

Closers, we've seen 'em all.

But never one like Randy Myers.

Five things to remember

1. The introduction of new manager Davey Johnson and his 100-yard sprint from center field. Pitching coach Pat Dobson was thankful he and the rest of the coaching staff didn't have to follow. "I was thinking that if we did," Dobson said, "we might've blown out halfway there."

2. Mike Mussina picking up where he left off last year, shutting down the Royals on five hits over seven innings.

3. Cal Ripken turning his first double play with second baseman Roberto Alomar, and dumping a couple of singles into short center field for three RBIs.

4. Closer Randy Myers retiring the side in order in the ninth to clinch the victory.

5. The presidential eephus pitch, delivered by Bill Clinton, that made it to home plate on the fly.

Pub Date: 4/03/96

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