Morgan steps in for Ripken in 400 feat

Sidelight

Ranger becomes 99th to reach start figure

July 30, 1999|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The number 400 was on the minds of everyone in attendance at Camden Yards yesterday, and they nearly saw Cal Ripken reach it.

But the number also had significance for Texas starter Mike Morgan, although he wasn't aware of it.

"I didn't really know," Morgan said after he became only the 99th pitcher in baseball history to record 400 starts. "I just want to take the ball every five days and give it my best. After what happened in my last start, I was just happy to be out there."

Now almost 40 years old, the onetime high school phenom was knocked out of his last outing in the second inning when Bubba Trammell of Tampa Bay lined a shot off his right (throwing) arm.

"I was drilled and I've been in the training room ever since," said Morgan, who is now working for his 11th major-league club, a record for any professional sport. "I've spent a lot of time just getting my arm ready to pitch. Heck, I could have had a broken arm or even my career ended."

That was obviously not the case. Pitching with a deep bruise on his forearm yesterday, Morgan went six strong innings and allowed a mere three hits -- two until a scoring change credited Mike Bordick with a triple on a fly ball that Roberto Kelly lost in the sun -- and one earned run.

Morgan made the biggest pitch of the game to Bordick, inducing an inning-ending double play in the sixth while clinging to a 2-1 lead. Then, his day was finished and the Rangers' bullpen produced three scoreless innings to give him a team-high 11 wins.

"I told our writers before the game I was going to keep a close eye on him," said Texas manager Johnny Oates. "Mike's a well-conditioned athlete, but he's not 22 years old any more. After six innings, he was sucking for air and I didn't want him to face B.J. [Surhoff] and Albert [Belle]. Still, it was a tough decision."

Morgan entered the game receiving the highest run support of any starter in the majors (8.18 runs per outing), but he didn't get his usual backing yesterday as Juan Guzman also pitched a fine game. But home runs by Kelly and Royce Clayton were enough.

The other 400 almost came to pass in the third inning when Ripken lined a drive that appeared headed over the left-field wall for a historic home run. Umpire Joe Brinkman ran halfway out the line and ruled it a double after the ball caromed off the very top of the wall, about six inches short.

"They built that wall just high enough," said Morgan, now 5-2 in his last 10 starts, without permitting more than four earned runs. "In this park, you never know when a ball goes out there. It's a game of inches."

He's proven to be a valuable pickup for the American League West leader, a recent postseason qualifier that always seems to come up a little short in pitching.

The victory was Morgan's first in Baltimore since Sept. 6, 1985, when he was with Seattle. The Orioles were one of his stops; he was 1-6 for the ill-fated 1988 team that opened the season 0-21.

Oakland made Morgan the fourth selection in the 1978 summer draft and he made his debut in the majors just one week after he graduated from high school, one of only 17 players to do so. The start was June 11 at Memorial Stadium and he lost, 3-0, to the Orioles.

"I can't even remember that far back," Morgan said. "I do remember getting to play with Cal in '88. A great team player and a class act. All I know is that good things have happened to me in 21 years in this game. And now I'm on a first-place team. That's a good feeling."

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