Groom off quick on route to 70

O's reliever starts bid for 6th straight year of 70 games in opener


April 04, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

That's one down for Buddy Groom, 69 to go. And an early lead over the Colorado Rockies' Mike Myers in a race that doesn't hold his attention.

Groom and Myers are the only major-league pitchers to appear in 70 or more games for five straight years. It took the Orioles' Groom until the final game of last season to reach the milestone, with manager Mike Hargrove earning a big assist for getting him into three of the last four.

Groom's latest flirtation with baseball history began during Monday's opener against the Boston Red Sox, when Hargrove called for him with two runners on base and two outs in the ninth inning. Groom retired Carl Everett on a sharp grounder to third baseman Cal Ripken to keep the score tied.

Groom breezed through the 10th, recording a strikeout along the way, to complete 1 1/3 scoreless innings in the Orioles' 2-1 victory.

His contribution seemed lost among the celebrating in the clubhouse, where second baseman Jerry Hairston and right fielder Brady Anderson had clusters of microphones shoved in their faces after their hits in the 11th produced the win. The mob drifted to the locker of starting pitcher Pat Hentgen, who out-dueled three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez.

As the scene unfolded, Groom accepted the periodic interview requests, one reporter at a time. He already had showered and dressed before Anderson and Hairston could find room to breathe.

"I felt good," Groom said. "Eight warm-up pitches were all over the place and the adrenalin was going really heavy -- the jitters from the first game. But when the first hitter stepped in there, I kind of relaxed a little bit and calmed myself down and said, `Hey, just stay behind and drive the ball down in the zone and let my stuff take over.' But it's always good to get that first one under your belt."

And to get ahead of Myers, who thanks to Mike Hampton didn't pitch in Colorado's 8-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Not that Groom would have noticed. He doesn't examine the Rockies' box scores, checking for Myers' name and doing the math.

"I look in the paper at guys I know from other teams who I played with to see what they're doing," Groom said. "I didn't even have any idea where he was last year. I didn't follow him. I was more concerned about myself. If I got it, I got it. That's what I told [former pitching coach] Sammy Ellis last year.

"I just try to contribute how I can. I guess he felt like it was important and allowed me to do it, and I'm thankful to them for allowing me to keep the streak alive."

Groom's health also was a contributing factor. Accustomed to dealing with the occasional spasms in his lower back, he went through last season without a twinge. But he didn't make it out of camp this spring before needing treatment on his neck and back, which limited him to eight games.

Entering his second season with the Orioles, Groom said the pain and stiffness in his neck isn't a factor anymore. He's not as certain about the back, which also bothered him at times with Oakland from 1996 to 1999.

"It was fine as I was throwing [Monday]," he said. "Still, one day it's pretty good and the next day it can be a little sore, but nothing I can't pitch with. It's just a little nagging. I can tell it's there. Today it wasn't really bad at all. The day before I felt it more. It can be bothersome, but when I'm out there and the adrenalin gets going, I don't even think about it.

"I didn't have it at all last year. I thought I was past all that. ... It's just something I'll have to deal with, and if it gets to the point where it becomes an issue, we'll address it. But now it's not a big deal."

Neither is the 7.71 ERA he ran up in spring training. Groom didn't issue a walk and struck out 11, but opponents hit .370 against him. He never was in danger of losing his job as the club's primary left-handed setup man, however, after ranking second among American League relievers last season with 27 holds and leading Orioles relievers with six wins.

"I felt like there were still some things I needed to improve on in spring training, like just being down in the zone more consistently," he said. "I threw a lot of strikes this spring, but throwing a strike and a good strike are two different things. ...

"Even though I didn't walk guys, I gave up a lot of hits [17 in 9 1/3 innings]. That's why all I tried to focus on [Monday] was making sure I kept the ball down in the zone and not try to overthrow. A lot of times if I get in trouble, I try to overthrow and throw too hard instead of letting my stuff take over and do the job."

His next chance could come tonight, when the Orioles continue their three-game series with the Red Sox after being off yesterday. If not, another one won't be far behind. They never are with Groom.

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