Groom closes door twice on former home

Ex-Oakland reliever gives O's right breaks

April 24, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. -- This weekend was a special time for Buddy Groom. His performance was powerful enough for him to slip from a role that usually assures anonymity in good times. Groom became the central figure in the Orioles' series win over the Oakland Athletics because he stopped two potentially game-winning rallies. Without him, the Orioles would not be headed to Chicago on a tear. With him, they have found a left-handed insurance policy.

Friday night, Groom bailed out Chuck McElroy and Mike Trombley to end a six-run eighth inning within an 11-9 win. Saturday, with closer Mike Timlin having lost half of a 4-2 lead in the ninth inning, Groom entered to finish A's right fielder Matt Stairs for the second time in 18 hours.

Coming home never felt so good.

Saturday's save was Groom's second, giving him the team lead. He finished his fourth game and opponents had chiseled a paltry .111 average (3-for-27) against him. He didn't pitch last night.

Nothing could top Saturday's two-pitch save before a hostile crowd at Network Associates Coliseum. "You love that," said Groom, who has never saved more than three games in any season. "It motivates you even more when somebody hates you like that. To end the game and hear the dejection of the crowd is fun. You do that, and you know you're getting into their head. I enjoy that."

Groom, 34, developed a reputation for quantity over quality in Oakland. Last season, he tied Minnesota Twins reliever Bob Wells for the league lead with 76 appearances, becoming the fourth pitcher in major-league history to make at least 70 appearances in four straight seasons.

The A's considered Groom a matchup talent only. Manager Art Howe would bring him in against a left-handed big swinger or pinch hitter. His 46 innings averaged to fewer than two outs an appearance. Groom faced one hitter in 28 appearances and threw one inning or less 68 times.

Orioles manager Mike Hargrove perceives him quite differently. Groom was allowed to pitch three innings for his first save on April 6 against the Cleveland Indians. (He did not pick up a save in his last two seasons in Oakland.) A vulnerability against right-handed hitters (.315 batting average), Groom overcame his ability to avoid home runs. Groom allowed only one home run last season, breaking a run that extended 181 batters dating to July 1998.

ka-10 This weekend's coming-home party served as the ultimate stage for a pitcher chased from Oakland with the nickname '`Buddy Ka-Boom."

Asked about the A's lack of motivation to re-sign him last winter as a free agent, Groom said, "I don't know what their thought was. But I know I can do the job, and I never lost faith."

The weekend setting was initially odd but ultimately satisfying. In four seasons with the Detroit Tigers, Groom had faced the A's once. He then made 301 appearances for the A's from 1996-99.

Booed loudly when he entered Friday's eighth inning and Saturday's ninth, he dispatched Oriole-killer Stairs with little suspense. Saturday's degree of difficulty was enhanced by a bizarre forearm cramp suffered by catcher Greg Myers, who had to leave the game. Charles Johnson needed several minutes to strap on his gear and loosen; meanwhile, the locals taunted Groom.

Two pitches and a foul pop-up later, it was over.

"It gives you confidence. From here on out, if I'm in the same situation, I'm going to have more confidence I can get those guys out," Groom said. "It always helps when you can point to success."

Less than a month has passed within a surprising season. Few, if any, are farther ahead than Groom.

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