Myers is O's means to end Closer: A step apart from rest, Randy Myers also has been a step above. His saving grace gives O's the look of recent world champs.

September 29, 1997|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

MILWAUKEE -- Champagne dripped off every Oriole who cut a path through the visitors' clubhouse at SkyDome the night they clinched the AL East. Every Oriole that is except Randy Myers, who chose to soak in the atmosphere from the safety of a narrow passage rather than be drenched with the bubbly.

That's Myers, always prepared and never quite in step with the rest of the team.

Minutes earlier, he stood on the mound as the last out was recorded, a line drive to Cal Ripken that made the division title official. His feet touched familiar ground, but there was nothing usual about coming into a game with his team ahead by six runs. This was an honor bestowed upon him by manager Davey Johnson, a slap on the back for a season that has been a hanging slider away from perfection.

The guy deserves a warm embrace. Or a marriage proposal.

If not for a two-out, ninth-inning home run by the Oakland Athletics' Jason Giambi on May 3, Myers wouldn't know failure this year. He's been that good.

Look it up: 45 saves in 46 chances heading into the Division Series, which will start Wednesday night in Seattle. It has become an axiom in baseball that championships can't be won without a strong bullpen, and Myers is the Orioles' muscle.

"Randall K. is Randall K. He's a very constant factor, not only performance-wise, but personality-wise," pitching coach Ray Miller says. "He does his job and does it his way. You have to have ice water in your veins, an assassin's mentality. He has it. He thrives on it."

If anyone has an acute understanding of Myers' importance to the Orioles and their quest for the city's first world championship in 14 years, it's Miller, who served as pitching coach in Pittsburgh during the Pirates' abbreviated playoff runs in the early 1990s. They had Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla. They had starters who could carry a lead into the late innings. But they had nobody dependable enough to hold it.

"I think it's security for the ballclub. If we had a dominant closer [in Pittsburgh], we would have won both of those seven-game playoffs," Miller says.

"The big thing with a dominant closer is, in a short series, he can blow one and come right back and win the next night. That's what you need. He'll turn the page and move on to the next game."

Just don't expect him to get too excited about it.

One of the lasting images from the 1996 World Series is New York Yankees closer John Wetteland, his right index finger raised to the sky as he's being swarmed by teammates after recording the final out. Go back an additional six years, and there's Myers, getting the last Oakland Athletics batter on a checked-swing pop-up to secure the Cincinnati Reds' crown. For the others, it was sheer bedlam. For Myers, it was business.

"I really didn't get too emotional about it," he says. "In our job, we have to be mentally and physically ready every day. It was just another situation. The other guys were more emotional. I can understand that because they're sitting there anticipating it, and I'm trying to get it. For me, it was like, 'Whew, the out's over.' "

Myers turned 35 earlier this month and says he doesn't feel any older, which is easy to believe. He's pitching as if he's been swimming laps in the fountain of youth. He wears the years well, age just being a number, and hardly the most impressive of the left-hander's collection.

There are the 319 saves, sixth on baseball's all-time list. And the 34 straight conversions, a streak exceeded by only two relievers in major-league history. He has become the first pitcher to have 45-save seasons in both leagues. And the 1.51 ERA this season, the lowest of his professional career.

Even when the Orioles, leaders of their division since the start, threatened to collapse with such force as to make the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies blush, Myers was a constant. But the pitcher who once saved 53 games for the Chicago Cubs, the pitcher who was voted Most Valuable Oriole in a landslide by writers covering the team, won't join in the fuss over his season, choosing instead to pass credit to his bullpen mates or simple fate.

"I've had a lot of good stretches," he says casually. "When you look at our role, you want to be [successful] over 80 percent. I've had a lot of stretches when I've been over 80 percent. The difference between 80 and 90 is one play out of 10. If you look at 50 appearances, you're looking at a difference of only five games in 50 appearances where a double play is turned, you happen to make the pitch exactly when you need it, a guy catches a ball that stops a base hit from going through.

"Some guys are eight out of 10 and they don't have the ability, but because of luck, they convert that many. You want to prepare yourself to get eight out of 10 because of your ability and knowledge of the hitters, pitching to their weakness, pitching to your strengths. Anything over that depends on whether a play is made or not."

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