Waiting game won, Krivda eyes Cubans

September 22, 2000|By John Eisenberg

SYDNEY, Australia - He has marched in the opening ceremonies, lived among athletes from around the world in the Olympic Village, signed autographs for Australian fans - done everything he was supposed to do as an Olympic athlete except the one thing he was brought here to do:

Pitch.

"It's been a little crazy, just sitting and watching," Rick Krivda said yesterday.

Twenty-three of the 24 players on the surprising U.S. Olympic baseball team have gotten into at least one of the team's first four games, all of which the Americans have won to take charge of the competition's round-robin phase.

Krivda is the exception. A former Orioles starter who went 11-8 with a 3.12 ERA in Rochester this season, he has sat and watched. Then sat and watched some more.

Annoying? No question. But he is about to make up for what he has missed. He is penciled in to start for the United States against Cuba tomorrow night at Sydney Olympic Park.

It's the premier assignment of the Olympics for a U.S. pitcher, and U.S. manager Tom Lasorda and pitching coach Phil Regan - yes, that Phil Regan - told Krivda before the Games that it probably had his name on it.

"It's something special, something very exciting," said Krivda, 30, a left-hander who has relied on breaking balls to win 83 games in the minors and 11 in the majors in 10 pro seasons. "I've never pitched in a bigger game, I know that."

Cuba has lorded over international baseball for years and was 21-0 in the Olympics until losing to the Netherlands Wednesday. It is believed the Cubans left several of their best, young players at home to avoid possible defections, leaving them with a team that is older and maybe more vulnerable than usual.

But they still have star third baseman Omar Linares and many players who were on the team that split a home-and-home series with the Orioles last year, and they're still the class of the international game until proven otherwise.

"They remind me of the Yankees, a veteran team that usually finds a way to win," Krivda said. "They obviously can be beaten, but it's still a big challenge."

Orioles fans will remember Krivda as a soft-spoken, farm-system home-grown who was on the fringe of the rotation for several years but never quite consistent enough to stick. Claimed by the Indians on waivers before the 1998 season, he was traded to the Reds later that year and then wound up pitching for the Royals' Triple-A affiliate in 1999 - and not pitching well, going 6-8 with a 5.70 ERA.

"I basically fell off the baseball world last year," Krivda said.

He got back on this year after re-signing with the Orioles in February and rediscovering the ability to get batters out. He said he was "a little disappointed" to watch the Orioles bypass him and call up younger pitching prospects such as John Parrish, Jay Spurgeon and Ryan Kohlmeier, but none of that matters now as he gets ready for Cuba.

"My goal was to pitch in the big leagues this year, and it didn't happen. Hopefully, it will happen next year," said Krivda, who will be a free agent this winter. "But being here is better than the major leagues, in a way. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and your whole country is rooting for you. I consider it a real honor."

He made the U.S. team out of a sizable pool of candidates and survived a couple of cutdowns to make the final roster. His only regret now is that Lasorda and Regan haven't used him, that his first Olympic pitch will be to Cuba's leadoff hitter. Younger prospects such as Ben Sheets and Jon Rausch have made starts ahead of him.

"It's kind of a slap in the face, although those guys are great, young pitchers and they have done well," he said. "But I can't even remember the last time I pitched. We played exhibition games on [Australia's] Gold Coast before we came to Sydney, and I pitched in one of those. It was probably 10 or 12 days ago. That's a long time. I wish I could have gotten in at least once and thrown to a few batters to get my feet wet.

"I came over here to participate. Things are going really well [for the team] and morale is sky high, and I haven't gotten to take part. I'm not OK with it, really. But I can deal with it."

It's actually a compliment that he was told before the Games he likely would start against Cuba. His 72 major-league appearances, 36 starts and 11 wins with the Orioles, Indians and Reds are highs on the U.S. staff, and, if anything, playing Cuba requires an experienced pitcher. Krivda brings that to the mound, even if he doesn't bring overpowering stuff.

"[Lasorda and Regan] told me that Cuba likes to intimidate pitchers, so I guess they feel I can handle that," Krivda said. "They also said [Cuba] isn't a great breaking-ball-hitting team, and I should be fine. I'm going to try to treat it as any other game I have to pitch, although it obviously isn't. It's a big game on a worldwide stage. I like to think I can handle it."

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