Wells-Parent battery charges win O's lefty, new catcher hit it off to top A's, 3-1, widen wild-card lead

Within 4 games of Yanks

Bonilla's 2-run double cracks pitchers' duel

August 28, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Mark Parent's most strenuous physical activity in the five days leading up to last night occurred in the swimming pool of his Las Vegas home. Water basketball against his 6-year-old son, Nicholas, using the Shamu Sea World floating backboard.

Parent was out of a job, released by the Detroit Tigers after playing infrequently for five months. But he flew into Baltimore on Monday night, signed with the Orioles yesterday afternoon, and greeted manager Davey Johnson, who never mentioned when Parent was going to play: Immediately.

Suddenly Parent was playing with a new team, in front of 43,641 fans at Camden Yards, in the middle of a pennant race, working with David Wells, a pitcher he'd never caught before. What a joy. Wells and Parent, meshing as if they'd been swapping signs for years, combined to shut down Oakland, 3-1. Bobby Bonilla broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth by ripping a two-run double.

"Bobby is really picking up the slack," said Johnson. "The whole ballclub is picking up."

Because the fading Chicago White Sox lost to Milwaukee last night, the Orioles (70-61) lead the wild-card race by 1 1/2 games. The New York Yankees also lost, putting the Orioles within four games of the AL East lead. Should the Orioles win today, they'll be 10 games over .500 for the first time this year, a barrier they've tried and failed to hurdle four times.

The first meeting of pitcher and catcher is like any first meeting between two people. If the first impressions are awful, they may never work well together. The pitcher is shaking off the catcher's signs, the catcher is frustrated with the pitcher's selection of pitches, they're both miserable. "It can be awful," Wells said.

A pitcher and catcher new to each other may not care either way, merely co-existing. Or they might get along great, instant rapport.

Wells and Parent had instant rapport last night, Wells liking the huge target the 6-foot-4 Parent gives him behind the plate -- the same way burly Chris Hoiles sets a big target, Wells said -- and Parent enjoying how Wells could hit the target, no matter where he set it.

Detroit's staff is, for the most part, comprised of inexperienced pitchers, "and they're working their butts off," Parent said. But nothing comes easy with young pitchers, who often struggle with their control and command of their pitches.

"I'm not [criticizing] Detroit," Parent said, "but it was nice to know that when you put down a sign, you had a better than 70 percent chance the pitch was going to be there."

Wells didn't shake off one sign the whole game. Parent would call for a pitch, and in spite of his huge frame, he would set a low target and Wells would acknowledge the call and rock back and fire. Wells didn't step off the rubber or delay the game unnecessarily, trying to get in sync with his new catcher. He just reacted.

Johnson said: "[Parent] caught a heck of a game. He really worked well with David, and David isn't always the easiest human being in the world to deal with -- I know, from firsthand experience."

The last time Wells faced Oakland, on Aug. 18, he allowed seven runs and was knocked out before retiring a batter in the second. Last night, Johnson said, Wells "was completely dominating."

Added A's manager Art Howe: "It was like two different pitchers."

He shut out the Athletics through the first four innings. Rookie Brian Lesher hit a homer leading off the fifth, his first, and after Wells fell behind two balls and no strikes to the next hitter, Ernie Young, Parent went to the mound to settle his pitcher.

Wells came back to strike out Young -- the first of eight straight hitters he retired. Bonilla's two-run double in the sixth gave the Orioles a 3-1 lead off Ariel Prieto (4-6), who had held the Orioles to one run in the last series in Oakland.

"Velocity-wise in Oakland I had nothing," said Wells (10-12), who was 0-2 with two no-decisions since Aug. 5. "My back was really bothering me and I was throwing with all arm. Tonight I went out there, challenged everyone and had command of all my pitches."

Wells began to lean backward between pitches in the sixth and seventh, bending down, in an effort to stretch out his lower back, which has bothered him for the last three starts.

Finally, after Mike Bordick singled with one out in the eighth, Johnson trudged to the mound with the intention of removing Wells. Scott Brosius was next, with slugger Mark McGwire to follow.

Wells, never one to leave easily, stared at Johnson before handing over the baseball.

"I know that wasn't a very popular decision with the fans," Johnson said. "I heard from a couple of them [from behind the dugout]."

Alan Mills relieved Wells, and struck out Brosius on a high fastball, after falling behind three balls and one strike. But Mills still had to get through McGwire, representing the potential tying run at the plate. "He's pretty scary," Johnson said.

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