Orioles' new closer Timlin steps into familiar territory Right-hander was in middle of Mariners' tumble in '98

November 17, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

By signing as a free agent with the Orioles last week, Mike Timlin left a club that had competed for the title of baseball's biggest bust this season after crumbling under the weight of heavy expectations. In its place he joins a club that had competed for the title of baseball's biggest bust after crumbling under the weight of heavy expectations.

Different address, familiar ground.

Timlin made his first appearance in Baltimore yesterday since accepting a four-year, $16 million offer and ending his association with the Seattle Mariners. He took a physical, then met with some members of the local media on the fourth-floor of the warehouse. Sitting next to general manager Frank Wren, Timlin wore jeans, hiking boots and an easy smile as he got acclimated to his new surroundings.

"I always enjoyed playing here," he said. "They have a great tradition in Baltimore. They have a great fan base. I was always abused as a visitor. Maybe I'll be loved as a home guy."

That depends, of course, on how successful he is as the Orioles' new closer.

Hope comes in the form of his second-half numbers with the Mariners, which include 18 saves in 19 chances for a bullpen where leads often went to die. He was 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in 31 games after the break, allowing 35 hits and three walks in 36 innings.

When the Mariners chose to sign free agent Jose Mesa, Timlin was forced to look elsewhere. A fourth-place finish has been followed by an off-season of considerable change for the Orioles, but the right-hander said he didn't have any concerns about the organization's future when deciding how to best secure his own.

"They're always competitive," he said. "In Toronto, we were competitive in '91, '92 and '93, and we kind of fell off. I've never seen Baltimore really fall off."

He had plenty of opportunities this season. Timlin, who turns 33 in March, saw enough of the Orioles to get a pretty good read on them.

"I think they put a lot of pressure on themselves," he said. "High expectations, you try to meet them no matter who you are, if you're a veteran or a young kid. And if you put too much pressure on yourself, you're obviously not going to do very well. Baseball is always a game better played if you're relaxed, and I don't think this team was relaxed at the beginning of the season."

This is only the second time Timlin has gone into a season knowing he would be the closer. He saved 31 games for Toronto in 1996, but was traded to Seattle the next July along with left-hander Paul Spolijaric for young outfielder Jose Cruz.

"I've been pretty confident in the job I've done when I've had the job," he said.

Timlin also has no reservations about pitching on consecutive days and bristles at reports that his effectiveness wanes under such conditions. He's had two surgeries on his right elbow, to shave a bone spur and to remove chips. Timlin was playing catch 10 days after the second procedure and said the elbow is "probably as sound as it can be." For proof, he points to the career-high 70 appearances he made this season.

That's not the only load Timlin has carried. There's also the stigma that comes from being a former Seattle reliever.

Does he have something to prove to fans here who connect Timlin with the Mariners' flammable bullpen and fear getting burned?

"Hopefully not. When you try to prove something and try to get rid of part of your past, things don't work out real well," he said.

"Hopefully, they'll know that I'm professional and I'll do the job to the best of my ability and win."

Pub Date: 11/17/98

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