In up, down career, ex-Oriole Olson digs new hole

On Baseball

April 18, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Former Orioles pitcher Gregg Olson re-established himself as a premier bullpen closer with the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks last year, but the first two weeks of the 1999 season have been a disaster.

In his regular-season debut on Opening Day, he gave up a three-run homer in the ninth inning to blow what would have been an uplifting victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In his second appearance of the year, he gave away a two-run lead in the ninth and blew what would have been an uplifting series-opening victory over the Atlanta Braves.

In his third appearance, he gave up two more ninth-inning runs to the Braves, almost single-handedly accounting for a lost series that otherwise would have been a glowing affirmation of the improvements that the Diamondbacks made during the off-season.

"I think we've played real well," Olson said after blowing three straight save opportunities for only the third time in his career. `I don't think anything's wrong except for me."

No excuses. That's the pitcher that Orioles fans came to love during a short -- but impressive -- career in Baltimore. Olson left after suffering a partial ligament tear in his pitching elbow and knocked around the major and minor leagues for four years before finding his way again with the Diamondbacks.

It's sad to see him struggle, but judging from his stubborn effort to rebuild his career, he'll find his way back. He pitched two perfect innings in a non-save situation on Tuesday to lower his ERA from 18.00 to 9.00.

"He's going to have to fight his way through this," Diamondbacks pitching coach Mark Connor said recently. "He knows we're counting on him. I feel like he'll get through it, hopefully sooner than later."

Continuing, sad story

New York Yankees outfielder Darryl Strawberry took another trip down his personal path of self-destruction the other night, which may spark outrage in some, but really should evoke only pity.

He's still not out of the woods in his battle against colon cancer. He apparently has not overcome a problem with substance abuse that already has put him in rehab more than once. He apparently is battling depression.

His arrest on charges of solicitation and cocaine possession are just the latest incidents in a life gone horribly wrong. The question is what to do about it now.

The Yankees, with everything going their way and little motivation to allow anything to deflect attention away from another potentially terrific season, could be forgiven for cutting Straw loose and trying to forget he ever wore pinstripes. But that probably isn't going to happen.

Once vilified owner George Steinbrenner has created his own alter-ego, a paternalistic father figure who has taken great satisfaction in helping the likes of Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Steve Howe rebuild their lives. He almost certainly will try again.

Strawberry's life may depend on it.

Injustice for one

No good deed ever goes unpunished. Oakland A's pitcher Brad Rigby had just finished throwing on the side and icing his arm on Sunday in anticipation of a scheduled start Tuesday when he was asked to make an emergency appearance to spell knuckleballer Tom Candiotti, who had broken a fingernail on his pitching hand.

Rigby took the mound and pitched unimpressively for 1 2/3 innings, then was shipped out to Triple-A because the A's needed help in the bullpen.

"Normally, I don't make a ruckus in the clubhouse," Rigby said when the move was announced, "but this is hard to take. I'd already thrown and iced when they asked me if I could pitch. I'm not saying I pitched great, but I helped them out, and this is the reward I get? I don't think it's right."

Manager Art Howe didn't deny that the move was a cruel twist of fate, but explained afterward that he had to act in the best interest of the entire team.

"It's a tough call," Howe said, "but I have to do what's best for the team, and sometimes that's unkind."

Tough start

New Phillies outfielder Ron Gant probably didn't intend for it to happen this way, but all he did was heap more pressure on himself when he engaged in a long-distance war of words with former manager Tony La Russa.

Gant accused La Russa of racism. La Russa accused Gant of being a hole in the lineup. Now Gant, under pressure to show he's still a productive player, is in a huge early season funk.

He had just two hits and one RBI in his first 29 at-bats of the season, and he was booed heavily by the home crowd in the Phillies' first two games at The Vet.

Long time coming

Rangers pitcher Mike Morgan set an esoteric major-league record when he defeated the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday. It was his first victory over Seattle since Aug. 4, 1979, when he was a young prospect with Oakland.

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