BOSTON - Still searching for some consistency in their bullpen, the Orioles have turned to a 34-year-old pitcher with a World Series ring, experience in a variety of roles and an eagerness to prove he's still got something left.
Darren Holmes, acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals' organization for future considerations on Wednesday, never made it to Triple-A Rochester. He joined the Orioles in Boston yesterday, with reliever Gabe Molina being sent down to clear room.
This will be Holmes' third team since spring training. He was released by the Arizona Diamondbacks after four games when closer Matt Mantei came off the disabled list and Byung-Hyun Kim continued to show promise. Choosing free agency, he totaled 8 1/3 innings with the St. Louis Cardinals before being sent to Triple-A Memphis. He went a combined 0-1 with a 10.13 ERA in the majors.
Holmes had an arrangement with the Cardinals that he could leave if an offer came to pitch in the majors. The Orioles scouted him and eventually worked out a deal.
"It's a good opportunity for me here. We've been talking back and forth for a little bit now. I'm just glad to see something get done," he said before last night's game.
"I had told my agent to start looking around and talk to teams. We talked to Baltimore and they were interested. They sent some guys to watch me pitch a couple times and we got it worked out [Tuesday]. St. Louis really did me a favor. I didn't want to have to wait 10 days for waivers and go through all that. That was my problem coming over to St. Louis. It was 23 days before I pitching in a ballgame."
Holmes has closer's experience, saving 25 games with the Colorado Rockies in 1993 and 58 for his career. Manager Mike Hargrove has gone to a committee approach, with no one designated for the ninth inning, after Mike Timlin blew his fourth save on Sunday by allowing a grand slam to Seattle Mariners catcher Tom Lampkin.
"Grover basically told me to be ready from the first through the ninth inning," said Holmes, who earned a save for the Diamondbacks on Opening Day after allowing only three runs during the spring - all on bases-empty homers. "It really doesn't matter to me. I really don't care. It's wherever I can help this team."
Hargrove said Holmes, part of the New York Yankees' bullpen in 1998, will be used in the middle and late innings.
"Until we can settle out the bullpen, I think his role will fluctuate," Hargrove said, adding that Holmes has been extended to three innings this season and thrown two in other games.
"He's a proven major-league pitcher. I think we'd all agree that Gabe Molina has good stuff and a lot of talent, but he's still very young and needs to pitch. He hasn't pitched a lot since he's been here."
"If we can get Holmes back on track the way he was a year or so ago, then we're in good shape."
Holmes had a rough start last night against the Boston Red Sox, giving up five runs on four hits and three walks in one-plus inning.
Groom not a committee of 1
Buddy Groom won't make any assumptions, though if he were so inclined, it wouldn't take much effort.
Groom began last night with saves in the past two games, an apparent sign that Hargrove is leaning toward making him the closer.
It even looked like Groom was being held out of Wednesday's 8-7 victory until there was lead to protect beyond the eighth. He entered in the 11th and got the last three outs for his fourth save. His career high had been three in 1997 for the Oakland Athletics.
Despite the obvious assumptions, Hargrove insists that the left-hander isn't been groomed as the team's closer. The manager will go with a committee, mixing and matching rather than hoping and praying that one designated reliever can slam the door.
"The easy way would be to have a closer," Hargrove said, "but I've said, 'If you're on the mound, get the last out and you're the closer that night.' It just turned out [Wednesday] night that it was Buddy. He was the freshest of the bunch down there."
He's also been the most effective. Preserving the win for Jose Mercedes on Wednesday, Groom allowed a leadoff single to Nomar Garciaparra on a grounder through the left side before retiring the next three hitters. After a two-game stretch in Oakland and Seattle when he allowed five runs and seven hits in 2 2/3 innings, he has given up no runs and one hit in his past 1 2/3 innings over three games.
Blown save or blown math?
There's a discrepancy in the statistics kept by the Orioles and the ones that appear on the Major League Baseball Web site concerning the team's blown saves, leading to some confusion each time a reliever mishandles a late lead.
The Orioles counted 19 of them going into last night's game, but MLB listed the total as 20.
Bill Stetka, director of public relations, said the difference probably comes from a June 14 game against Texas when Jason Johnson entered in the fourth in relief of Pat Rapp, lost a lead and became the pitcher of record.
The Orioles say no blown save should have been credited. MLB stands by its math.
Lewis aids Clark's journey
Besides tying Wednesday's game in the ninth inning, Will Clark also notched his first triple in two years when his liner skipped past diving center fielder Darren Lewis. Clark, whose season-high was nine back in 1989, went into third base standing.
Hoping to get the go-ahead run across, Hargrove sent in Mark Lewis to run for Clark.
"I might be the only player on the face of the Earth to get a stand-up triple and then be removed for a pinch runner," Clark said. "Don't think I didn't give Grover some grief about that one."
Clark, always quick with the needle, also had a message for third base coach Sam Perlozzo and his hasty stop sign.
"I told Sammy, `You don't have to put up your hands as soon as I reach second base. At least wait until I get halfway to third.'"