Battle of the bullpens matches Orioles' depth vs. Mariners' depths Benitez has had last say against Seattle this season

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

MILWAUKEE -- The Seattle Mariners spent the hours leading up to the trading deadline trying to cushion a bullpen with an alarming tendency to implode, sending pieces of their late-inning leads flying in all directions.

They brought in Mike Timlin from Toronto and Heathcliff Slocumb from Boston, joining them with holdovers Norm Charlton and Bobby Ayala. And they hoped for the best, which was more than their collection of closers has been able to give them.

If the Division Series between Seattle and the Orioles leaks into the bullpens, the Mariners will be the team scrambling for cover. And not only because they can't match the presence of Randy Myers.

Perhaps of greater concern is right-hander Armando Benitez, who hasn't allowed a run to Seattle in five innings this season. The most it got off him was one hit and two walks, which were muted by five strikeouts.

Twice, on consecutive nights in May, Myers was pulled for Benitez with two outs in the ninth inning and Edgar Martinez at the plate. Both times, Benitez got the save. Just another example of how manager Davey Johnson can pummel a team with left-right combinations.

"We've had leads in most of these games and Davey's been able to bring Armando into most favorable situations," pitching coach Ray Miller said. "Both of these clubs are pretty much locked into their lineups, with good hitters at every position, so they're not going to pinch hit. If you have quality guys in the bullpen, good balance left and right, you bring them in."

Myers has two saves against the Mariners this year, but also has given up 11 hits and five runs (three earned) in 6 1/3 innings. Such failings would doom Seattle, but they've made life only a little difficult for the Orioles, whose bullpen depth and versatility give them a decided edge in any playoff series.

"To be successful, you've got to have some guys out there," Johnson said. "Obviously, my left-hand side of the bullpen and the work of Armando Benitez has really set up the scenario late in the game pretty good for Randy."

A return to form by Terry Mathews, who has struggled for much of the second half, would add even more potency to a mix that includes left-handers Arthur Rhodes and Jesse Orosco and right-handers Alan Mills and (for the postseason) Scott Kamieniecki.

As good as the bullpen has been this year, it's buckled some under the weight of heavy use. Orioles relievers lead the majors in fewest blown saves with nine, including only three since July 5, but had posted a 6.49 ERA in the previous 26 games leading into the final regular-season series in Milwaukee.

"When Terry and Armando were both going real good, along with everybody else, it was really easy to manage and keep everybody rested," Johnson said. "We've had a few little chinks in the armor, overworked a few guys and had some wobbly outings, but there is good chemistry there."

The kind that made the Cincinnati Reds so formidable in 1990, the year they won the World Series. They had a three-headed monster in the bullpen: Myers, Charlton and Rob Dibble. Each was capable of closing. Used in succession, they slashed games almost in half.

"In '90 we played five-inning games," Myers said. "Our position players even played five-inning games. When we got a lead, they were always trying to tack on one run at a time. They'd give themselves up for the next hitter, always trying to get guys in scoring position. We didn't have a lot of hits, but every hit we had was clutch. In '90, our guys weren't swinging 2-0. They weren't swinging 3-0. They weren't swinging 3-1.

"When they had those guys together," Johnson said, "it was almost having too much pitching and not enough innings. That was a little overkill. To get those kind of arms in one year is unique."

It happened again, this time in Baltimore. And it could make the greatest difference in this series.

Pub Date: 9/29/97

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